January 7, 2008

Wayne Miller's Family In The Family Of Man

wayne_miller_fam_man.jpg

I made a mental note a couple of months ago to look up Toni Frissell's photos in The Family Of Man, the landmark photography exhibition Edward Steichen curated at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955. The show featured 503 photos by 273 photographers from 68 countries, and it made the then-bold assertion that photography was the art that could capture the universality of the human experience. The show traveled around the world; Paul Rudolph's exhibition design is mindblowing and fresh; and the catalogue is awesome.

Turns out I have a first edition of the Family of Man catalogue; I found it while we were moving and reorganizing our books. Frissell's got one photo in there: the kid and his shadow on the beach. So no new finds there.

But hey-o, did anyone notice that two of The Family of Man's 30-odd themes is The Pregnancy of Woman and The Birth of Little Man? There's a lot of interesting stuff. What caught my attention, though, especially after finding out there's only one Frissell picture, is how many photos are credited to someone whose name I didn't know: Wayne Miller.

In the introduction, Steichen, the godfather of art photography in the US1, writes about the incredible winnowing process to narrow down the tens of thousands of images to just 500. And Miller may have more than anyone. I'm sure it had nothing to do with his close work with Steichen as a Navy photographer in WWII. And it had nothing to do with his role as assistant curator on the show.

Miller--who later went on to become head of the Magnum Photos agency--actually captured some rather remarkably intimate shots of his wife grimacing as she's giving birth. And then there's the one above, taken just as his son is born. Not what I'd come to expect from a dad in America in the 1950's.

There's a great section of dad-themed photos, too; I'll pick and scan a couple more over the next few days. See, scanning and processing an image is considered a major accomplishment around these parts at the moment.

Buy The Family of Man exhibition catalogue at Amazon, various ages and formats [amazon]

Previously: Toni Frissell's photographic children's books

1 Yes, as Chris points out in the comments below, I mixed up Steichen with Stieglitz. Maybe Steichen would be the Patton of US art photography, not the godfather.

6 Comments

Never mind uploading images, the fact that you just strung together that many thought-filled sentences is baffling to me. My youngest is 1 and I still don't think I've had a thought that long (or coherent) in about . . . a year. Congrats!!

On a side note, the Steichen show currently in Paris is well worth the visit if you happen to be over there.

The Family Of Man show can still be seen at the Ch√Ęteau de Clervaux in Luxembourg.

I grew up with that "catalog" on my mom's bookshelf. LOVED it since....forever(?) And the photo you posted is quintessential. Was always right next to "Our Bodies, Our Selves." Classic. Thanks for the memories.

The photo was taken in 1946 and the doctor was the boy's grandfather .... taken by the father ..

Just one little point: I would take exception to the concept that Edward Steichen was "the godfather of art photography in the US". I think that title rightly belongs to Alfred Steiglitz, though Steichen --on his permanent cloud of egomania-- might well have given himself the same undue credit.

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