Reading Prompt Due Sunday by 5pm


At the end of her essay, Marianne Hirsch says, “If The Family of Man is, in Alan Sekula’s terms, a ‘guidebook for the collapse of the political into the familial’, the camera, the family picture, and the family album are effective instruments of this collapse.” (69) Please explain this statement within the context of Hirsch’s broader discussion about the production and reception of Edward Steichen’s Family of Man exhibit at the MOMA in 1955 and its subsequent publication in book form.

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39 Responses to Reading Prompt Due Sunday by 5pm

  1. To explain what Sekula and Hirsch mean, take for example the photograph Hirsch mentions on pages 55 and 56 of the woman, child, policeman, and kissing couple. Hirsch states that “the kiss occurs on a different visual plane, outside the space of the social, challenging the traditional family structure that dominates the foreground, with its mother, father, and child figures” (56). Take note of the fact that the male figure in this case is a policeman, a symbol of the political establishment. The woman is the only figure that notices the kissing couple, leading the observer to notice them as well. This creates the feeling of the woman conspiring with the couple to keep them safe from the prying eyes of the policeman. Yet it is precisely the framing of this image that leads to that feeling. If the photo was filmed a different way, such as in a way that would let the audience see the expression on the woman’s face, the observer would be more able to tell what the woman thinks about the couple. This could (or could not) destroy the feeling of conspiracy between the three figures. If the couple were more central within the photo, the photo would also seem to lead less towards the personal. Thus, it is specifically the framing of the photo that creates the feeling that personal relationships are overcoming societal and political pressures. Thus the couple is not challenging the woman or the child; they are challenging the traditional political setup of the nuclear family.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      This is a wonderful application of the idea to a specific image. Speaking more generally, Hirsch seems concerned about the pretense of the “universal family” as a form of international conciliation and healing after two atrocious world wars. How does claiming that everyone is one big family contribute to the blindness, perhaps, that allows the public to miss the point of difference?

  2. alangdon93 says:

    I interpreted the meaning of collapse of the political into the familial as political statements being made by the representation of the family. People are attracted to the family. At least, I can speak to myself, probably closely related to the bourgeois nuclear family, political aims achieved through appealing to the family ties such as ‘adopting’ or sponsoring children is attractive. Thus, by invoking the family, one can make political goals more salient. Hirsch observes that Family of Man supposedly ‘universal’ by sticking to familial images actually makes keen political observations of humanities differences. Hirsch explains this by the familial gaze. It can be so inclusive, but as a result, equally exclusive. Hirsch argues that Steichen’s attempt to portray “individuals and couples, removed from their social, political, and economic context,” inevitably failed (55). For example, although the family portraits from four different countries were similar, the difference that the Western families were inside and the Eastern families outside starkly highlighted the families’ differences. It is differences of this subtle nature that made political statements or even slurs especially if the viewer was of the ‘other’ or not of the western middle class background. These differences resulted in the negative reactions of the exhibit.
    Additionally, Hirsch brings up another unfortunate byproduct of the universality Steichen tried to accomplish in his book. Nothing is dated. Everything in the book is supposed to be ‘natural,’ making war, hunger, and other things seem ‘natural’ or unpreventable. Framing tragedies like war in the context of a natural family, Hirsch comments on how the book argues the opposite political agenda Steichen had intended; acceptance of war instead of ‘propaganda’ against it.
    Although Hirsch effectively pointed out Family of Man’s exclusivity, the photos containing the familial gaze contain a distinct persuasive technique. I felt conditioned to like the book. I mean, maybe it was because for me, most of the photographs depicted something similar to myself. However, upon reading and examining, I see the more the differences than the similarities. Sometimes what is failed to be said and the differences create a political statement. A political statement one might fall into because of the familial gaze, or be against because of its exclusion from the gaze. Since the book’s publication, other works have used similar model to prove very different points through parody, or taking the book from a different angle, giving letting the person, Lucy, take the camera to depict her perception of her ‘family’ life.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      A beautiful rendition of the traps Steichen falls into by trying to foster a universal sense of love and peace through the metaphor of the “natural” family.

  3. Elana says:

    The Family of Man was a set of photographs compiled by Edward Steichen during the Cold War. At that time, everything was very political. People automatically labeled one another as “communists” or “loyalists” or other such terms.Photos in newspapers had captions with political connotations and many red scares plagued the country. Everyone automatically had a part in the war, no matter their origins. People were separated based on political terms and this made people were very suspicious of one another. However, Steichen’s book put an end to the labeling as it gave Europeans and Americans a different perspective. As Alan Sekula said, The Family of Man served as a “guidebook for the collapse of the political into the familial”. By compiling photos of families from around the world doing mundane activities that are relatable to all kinds of people, Steichen was able to separate political terms from people’s minds and instead direct them to familial meanings and interpretations. The family pictures enabled people to see the similarities between themselves and others despite their geological differences. Of course, despite the similarities shown people are never the same. However, because these pictures provide familiar contexts, people were able to relate to these strangers in a better light and the political barriers disappeared.

    (As a side note, I am really not sure if this was the meaning of the article or not. This is just my interpretation of Hirsch’s discussion of similarity in relation to the context of The Family of Man’s exhibit opening and book publication).

  4. Elana says:

    I don’t know how to edit my post so I will make my correction here.

    Instead of mundane activities I meant to write universal activities.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      What you are missing in your response is a more detailed discussion of the notion of “collapse” in the prompt. Collapse is a negative term, not a neutral one, and Sekula appears to be saying that Steichen is doing something wrong here when he tries to solve society’s political ills by creating a metaphor of the family for all nations.

  5. The Family of Man uses images of ordinary people and everyday life to express an image of the world in which all people are fundamentally the same. Particularly the reproduction of the collection into an affordable book form, this adopts the style and structure of a family album. In this form, it easily diffused throughout households, becoming a common coffee table item resembling an individualized family album; however, in this case, it is a common family album for the entire world. While The Family of Man does include images representing the political side of countries, such as the photographs of the United Nations, the overwhelming majority are photographs of everyday people, some that are from amateur photographers and thus truly the material of an average family album. It is because of this uniquely ordinary approach that the collection has such a strong effect. The family album is a familiar item for many people, particularly in the western world, which makes this collection much more accessible to its target audience, ideally apparently the entire world population, but closely focused on white Americans. This book makes a political statement, that there are more similarities than differences between people of different nations, but does so through simple methods, utilizing family photos of individuals, couples, and families, gathering the photos together as the compilers hoped to draw people together.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      What about Sekula’s language of “collapsing” the political and the familial? What about Hirsch’s reading of the “album” and her reading of family photography, in general, in relation to this particular album? Your response does not reflect a reading of the Hirsch article.

  6. shjones says:

    My understanding of Alan Sekula’s quote was that there are political themes underlying familial photographs, although they are not intentionally placed there. Perhaps a better term than political would be social or sociopolitical. The familial picture represents the culture, ideals, and traditions of a certain demographic. The privileges and experience of an individual or group influences how they are photographed, as well as how they view photographs. As Hirsch points out, this is contrary to the idea of universal humanity. Instead of us all seeming as one, we are all portrayed differently. The “family album” and “family picture” is different for different groups of people, and thus collapses the idea of universal human characteristics. They mean different things for different cultures and are experienced in different ways. The camera also is subjective to the culture it is documenting. It is used differently, understood differently, and experienced differently. This breaks down the idea that we are all on “Family of Man”.

  7. knkern94 says:

    I think with this statement, Hirsch is getting at Steichen’s true purpose in creating his photograph exhibition and the point he was trying to get across in the collection he put together. In my opinion, breaking down from the “political to the familial” is a humanistic approach in viewing the troubles of the world during this time. Photography was viewed at its beginning as the presentation of the secular family and showing the typical family portrait. It slowly evolved into a documentation of history and the tragedies occurring in the world. Steichen’s The Family of Man is a healthy balance and mixture between the two. Instead of dividing our world between political boundaries, countries, religions, races, genders, or social status he shows the universal connection of all humans. Edward Steichen truly did a good job with this exhibit. I myself thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and thought the organization of it added to his purpose. I really liked Steichen’s statement about how after he documented the war and all its ugliness he wanted “a positive statement on what a wonderful thing life was, how marvelous people were, and above all, how alike people were in all parts of the world” (49). The reason this book was so popular and could be seen on the tables of typical households during it’s time was because of how relatable it was. People could finally see the breaking down of these “political” lines and understand the universal connection of humans. Although this book follows the typical theme we’ve been looking at with inciting hope for a better future. The silver lining to the story is that by realizing we are all one people we can end the tragedy of the times and connect on a more personal level.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      But Hirsch and Sekula are both concerned about the conflation of the political and the familial, as exemplified by the album. Why?

  8. Alan Sekula’s statement points to how familial photography can express the relationships, inequalities and differences between ethnic groups across political boundaries in light of The Family of Man attempt to universalize human experience through familial pictures as an opposition to the post-colonial tension between the western and third world. Hirsch discusses how The Family of Man attempts this universalization through analysis of Steichen’s techniques, literary critiques of his work and her personal experiences. Hirsch essentially evaluates whether The Family of Man truly manages to subsume and replace the white American middle-class to bourgeoisie tradition of perceiving and living the world as either part of the developed or the un-developed.
    Hirsch’s assessment is very critical. She thoroughly examines many aspects of Steichen’s assemblage and editing of his work. She points out Steichen’s disguising of the white American perspective of his work, the clear creation of an “other” in his narrative’s representations and a collection of her experiences and opinions as arguments that Steichen’s goal of universality falls flat when observed objectively. Hirsch points out how a set of four family portraits, one American and three of other nationalities, contain and acknowledge differences between them that allow American audiences to still perceive the non-American families as an “other” (59). Hirsch also analyses one of Steichen’s favorite maternal photographs and how he forcibly gives it a distinct identity, portraying a black woman as confrontational towards the photographer, in order to appease the expectations of his museumgoers, much to the anger and criticism of Roland Barthes (65). In more general discussion, Hirsch discusses, as an example, how photographs of a white and black boy that were partially raised have a hard time displaying neutrality and universality despite their intended representation (42). Hirsch’s overall discussion also serves to determine whether familiar photography and such truly are “effective instruments of this collapse” (69), or if such an attempt is even feasible.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      Good. So according to Hirsch, is a universal depiction of the human family even possible? How dangerous is the “collapse” Sekula (and Hirsch) identifies?

  9. Emily Schweich says:

    Steichen organized this exhibit as a reaction to the political climate of the 1940s and 1950s, in which differences were used as a justification for genocide. After organizing three collection of war photographs at the Museum of Modern Art, Steichen felt that he needed to take a different approach in order to unite people against war and promote the dignity of all humankind.

    “A familiar gaze can transform diversity into spectacular mirroring and can reshape global issues into domestic concerns” (Hirsch 50). The photographs that Steichen has assembled reflect a familial (and familiar) gaze that gives them a feeling to which viewers can relate. By seeing that some aspects of family life – love for a significant other, love for infants, rejoicing through music and dance, struggling with evolving industries – are universal, viewers can feel a common bond with viewers from other countries and cultures. The global issues that pervade society are simplified and viewed on a smaller scale – that of the family unit.

    However, Steichen faced criticism for painting a picture of a “patriarchal bourgeoisie” and for capturing a “humanism of differences” instead of a humanism of “identity” or “absolute civic equality.” This is evident in his juxtaposition of similar photographs of four extended families in different countries. Through this juxtaposition, Steichen is “othering” the families from countries outside of the U.S. While the family in Botswana is minimally clothed, the family from the U.S. is domesticated, with “pictures on the walls.” This juxtaposition could label other cultures as inferior to the United States.

    To look at Steichen’s exhibit with today’s definition of “family” in mind would also be enlightening. Today’s “family of man” might include more single-parent families, interracial families, or families with homosexual parents. This would be an interesting look at how the concept of family has changed across certain cultures and how willing people are to accept these changes.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      A wonderful final point. The vision expressed by Steichen in the exhibit and the book is heteronormative and presumes that families are necessarily procreative. In political terms, this would certainly be different today.

  10. joezim1994 says:

    It is clear, at least, that the overriding purpose of Steichen’s Family of Man project was to demonstrate to a certain degree the universality of the human experience. Hirsch proposes that this attempt at capturing in image the “human family” was a direct progression from postwar liberalism that was popular at the period (48). The camera was a tool most often utilized for familial purposes, so Steichen decided to build upon this conception of photography and expand it to encapsulate something greater than, and concurrently no more than, the mere family. Family pictures came to represent “symbols of universal humanity” (49) as Steichen hoped to use the medium of photography to its fullest capabilities to unite and highlight the commonality of people in the world. The family became an “instrument of universalization” (51) and the camera the most effective means to demonstrate it as such. In the way that it was meant to “collapse the political into the familial” (69), The Family of Man is focused on a resizing of the world: the political, the great issues and anxieties and hopes at play, become—through the lens of photography that can bring together moments otherwise separated by space and time—grounded in the familial and thus the familiar; the removed becomes immediate. The typical family album is a way to collect and make sense of a history gathered into one fixed space, and this project takes this as its foundation as it constructs a way to make sense of human history and experience through a family album of the world.
    Detractors have argued, however, that this ‘collapse’ very much does occur, but not in the way that Steichen seemed to have desired. Rather than voicing the equality of man, the photo collection becomes a platform for the politics of inequality for many that did not view the project with the same postwar liberalism as Steichen. They see The Family of Man as reinforcing stereotypes, as normalizing the bourgeois and the nuclear family and the centrality of the white race. The criticism stems from the project’s apparent focus on U.S./Eurocentric photographs (or photographers) and the alleged implication that the entire project merely serves to fortify this specific type while the photographs from other cultures work as counterpoints—they display them as similar and thus reduce them, in effect, stripping the importance of culture in identity so as that the world appears to be a safe and homogenized place as any white liberal would conceivably see it. To them, the family picture is a way to further colonialist oppression as it takes away the idiosyncrasies of culture and exhibits variation only as a means to diminish the rest of the world to the status of the Other.
    I tend to disagree with this general outlook. I for one see the American focus understandable if not inexcusable for a museum exhibit originally put on display in America by and American for an American audience. It was ultimately for a world audience, and it did seem to universalize its subject: the Family of Man included pictures from all over the world (limited by where most pictures available would have come from) and used them to create an aura of universality through the context of the familial experience. Variation does not implicitly suggest a hierarchy, and my general opinion is that Steichen succeeded in collecting the core oneness of humanity in a medium that assumes to do no more than merely capture and portray discrete moments in the lives of humans.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      A wonderful synopsis of the intended effect of the exhibit, and its detractors. I really appreciate your “weighing-in” with a description of your own reaction to the discourse.

  11. sjfrazier015 says:

    The Family of Man, in many ways, demonstrates the breakdown of values important to different countries as seen in the families that live their. When Hirsh speaks of this tactic as a “breakdown of the political into the familial,” I think that she meant that politics break down into the family and reinforces the political values. This can be seen first of all in the way the United States is often glorified in the photographs as the dominating country. The time period in which these pictures were on display, the united states and the rest of the world was in a war to the top. The Family of Man is organized sort of like a family album would be, displaying photos that fit together, sometimes chronologically. In every family album, people display photos that they are proud of and that show the greatest aspects of their family and the family experience. Though I don’t necessarily agree that this is also by route demonstrating the values of a countries government, the family album could be taken as such an instrument by others. The Family of Man attempts to demonstrate the aspects of international families and show what is important to all of them. But it is easy to see that the United States is glorified and displayed as the most important. This could have been intentional or unintentional but could also demonstrated the nature of the American person during this time period.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      Your synopsis is lacking some depth. Describing the “collapse” of the political into the familial is quite a harsh judgment. Why do Hirsch and Sekula see Steichen’s work as egregious?

  12. Ross Fasman says:

    Hirsch discuss the political context at the time of the publication in the MOMA, with the Holocaust being “post-memory” and political ideologies of the East and West competing for control over influence within Europe. Hirsch provides “the exhibition was an attempt to assert close human bonds across increasing political divisions between East and West, capitalism and communism, colonizers and colonized, rich and poor.” As the result, the exhibit is a “‘guidebook for the collapse of the political into the familial’” because it serves as the means for bridging the gap between ideology and humanity. Photography was the medium by which to close the “political divisions” in that “photography can be a moving force in the world…it can lift individuals as subjects from the humdrum and turn them into symbols of universal humanity.” Photography, because of its objective and truthful nature, serves as the “intersection between familial relation and cross racial and cross national interaction.” The family, as a result, is an interesting studium to use because its idea isn’t in fact political; it is something universally understood and the photograph was the best way to present it.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      I like your use of the concept of studium to explain the choice of the familial as a context for the political here. I would have like to hear more about the “collapse” that is discussed by Sekula and Hirsch. What is the downside of such a model?

  13. megmck12 says:

    Hirsh focuses on the dichotomy present in “The Family of Man”–the seemingly opposing existences of both a transracial familiarity of life and family and a stark comparison of race and ethnicity. What is striking, however, is the overwhelming recognition experienced by the audience of “the Family of Man”. Steichen is quoted in Hirsh’s article as saying “they knew them” in reference to the spectators viewing the subjects of his piece. Obviously, the familial recognition far outweighed the more political nature of the ethnic contrast of the collection.

    Hirsh mentions that photography is viewed by some as a “language understood by all”. This can be connected to the camera’s role as a tool to break down the political into the familial–the photograph is universal in its speciation. Although the interpretations of a single photograph are indeed vast, the means of arriving at that interpretation are not so far removed as differences in language and culture. While language and culture vary greatly, an image is always an image. Similarly, the institution of the family transcending cultural differences is aptly demonstrated in “The Family of Man”. Although cultural differences are apparent–such as the in comparing families from Italy and China–but the family as a unit is recognizable beyond those differences.

  14. Steichen was historically a photographer of war and the travesties that go along with it. While he photographed WWII and the Korean War, the horrors he experienced never seemed to affect people as greatly as The Family of Man did. The tool of political optimism is what drew Steichen to the project, and he found that it could work. The main goal of the exhibit was to bring a sense of universality between “East and West, capitalism and communism, colonizers and colonized, rich and poor” (50). To do so, the three elements worked in perfect accord. Such as the camera which is readily accessible to most families, the museum, which can draw in many crowds of awareness and introspection, and the book, which was very cheap and therefore readily available to all walks of life. If there is a feeling of universality that challenges the stigma of otherness, then there is a more difficult way for people to turn their backs on the atrocities of war and therefore the sufferings of others. Eliminate the thought that the “other” exists, then you eliminate the possibility of turning your back on suffering. Those people halfway across the world are no different then your neighbors.

  15. The Family of Man was first an exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and then a coffee table book in millions of American homes. It showcased 503 photographs from around the world chosen by Edward Steichen. The pictures were grouped into categories common to people all over the planet – love, marriage, work, children, play. Steichen’s purpose in creating the exhibit was to show people that we are all part of the same human family and thus that war and strife are to be absolutely avoided. This is what Marianne Hirsch is referring to in her essay when she writes that the exhibit was a “guidebook for collapsing the political into the familial.” The political agenda of the exhibit – pacifism and diplomacy over armed conflict – was supposed to be achieved by taking the argument into the private, domestic sphere – the family. As Hirsch writes, the means that Steichen conveyed this message was through photography, so he used cameras and pictures as his tools. The exhibit was immensely popular with the general public, but some critics, like Roland Barthes, attacked it. Barthes claimed that the exhibit was guilty of glossing over the persecution and injustice suffered by the rest of world at the hands of the more powerful whites. In trying to tie everyone together, Barthes argued, Steichen was ignoring the very real differences in quality of life caused by colonization and racism. Also, the very term family is troublesome, because in the usual family album, one feels a kinship with the people pictured because of the memories associated with those people. But in this exhibit, the viewers have no memories with the people pictured, but are still expected to have that same sense of kinship with them, simply because they too are humans.

  16. Steichen’s project, The Family of Man was an attempt to unite disparate individuals and countries in the wake of political conflict from World War II and the Korean War and in anticipation of the Cold War. This “liberal ideology” was more effective in theory than in practice, and underlying political and colonial issues appear despite the editor’s intentions. Regarding this, Hirsch comments, “The Family of Man used the camera, the museum, and the book as tools of change aligned to political institutions such as the United Nations” (7). For that reason, I don’t think the camera, the family picture, and the family album are effective instruments of the collapse of the political into the familial as even family photographs can have a political agenda.

    The most physically apparent example of this is that European American images are more prevalent throughout the book. Additionally, any pictures that do depict people of other cultures are from a European-American perspective. This relationship between the photographer and the model is one of “unequal exchange,” and the photographers are just peering into the world of their subjects long enough to make a few judgments and take photographs that align with them. For instance, American pictures are filled with intimate moments of a mother in bed with her children while African families are just shown outside and unsmiling. This creates an “us” versus “them” situation, where Americans are seen as civilized and superior. This neo-Colonialism is one of the major criticisms of Steichen’s work.

    Another unintended by-product of Steichen’s exhibition is that in addition to happy images, there were issues of social and political conflict such as war, hunger, and domestic discord. The family album should serve the purpose of “solemnizing and immortalizing the high points of family life” (8), but this album highlights the opposite. By implying that these problems are just as natural to family life as sharing a meal or kissing, it appears as if these issues will not soon go away, and therefore will not be conquered with only familial love and unity.

    From the perspective of a liberal American bourgeois, this album is a beautiful testament to the inclusion of all men. However, this inclusion in some instances only highlights the exclusion of other groups. The lack of representation or misrepresentation that is seen throughout The Family of Man distracts from, and ultimately overpowers Steichen’s original intentions. For this reason, at least in this instance, the camera, family picture and family album will not be the instruments of a dramatic political collapse.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      A wonderful synopsis. You should note that the term “collapse” is a highly charged term in Sekula’s assessment of the “Family of Man” project. It does not simply describe what Steichen was doing with the pollitical and the familial. It judges it, for the negative, in keeping with your accurate reading of the “insider/outsider” dynamic, or the “self” and “other,”

  17. maxinesrich says:

    With this statement, I feel that Hirsch is acknowledging a family album’s efficacy as a tool for political message and change. The individual who views the book or the exhibit quickly identifies with those in it, as, Hirsch claims, Steichen detaches the subjects from their original context, removing them from a historical timeline and alternatively connecting them with diverse people supposedly partaking in the same activity or emotion. The family is a familiar, universal unit. The Family of Man attempts to remove the sense of “Other” prevalent throughout human society, and, rather, bring out the psychological and biological similarities of all humankind. The Family of Man, however, is not the best example of such a tool. Photography, although a universal and simplified means of language and communication according to those such as Kodak, is subject to the culturally biased view of the the viewer, which is often unable to separate this ingrained notion of “otherness”. Such as in Hirsch’s example of the Japanese families versus the American families, the Westerner has an unconscious internal dialogue that the Japanese are non-threatening within their family album, because Americans are posed in a home, a domestic space, whereas the Japanese are outside, without a domestic space. Thus, the Americans are in a position of greater power. Because of this bias, The Family of Man is unable to have real political power because of its over-simplification, indicating, on the surface, no difference between cultures. This is unrealistic and this ineffective.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      On the contrary, Hirsch (and others, like Sekula) are arguing that the structure of the album reinforces the sense of “other” and creates divides between human beings instead of reinforcing their similarities and fostering political change.

  18. esrayagoub says:

    Marianne Hirsch interpreted the “The Family of Man” and the exhibit as merely a means of sharing images. From her perspective the book could even be considered propaganda. Edward Stiechen put this group of images together to blur the normal stereotypes and speak out against war. he wanted to prove that people across cultures share were essential the same and that they shared the same values. Hirsch would agree that he did accomplish this because of the popularity that the display and the book gained. Hirsh would argue that the same idea and broadening definition of family came from the individual images, the book merely gave a greater number of people access to these images. As proven by the mere existence of the images, this notion of family already existed it just wasn’t fully understood.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      Is this what Hirsch argued? It seems to me that her argument was a bit more complex than the one you outline above. What about the term “collapse” and the notion of the familial and the political?

  19. Steichen had photographed many horrific events in World War I, World War II, and Korea. His hope to publishing these photographs were to bring people together as a unit and to, “…use photography as an instrument with which to prevent war.” However, Steichen felt like he failed after organizing exhibits from these photographs at MOMA because they did not seem to change the mind set of society. Steichen later realized that perhaps he was using the wrong “medium” for his goal. In a time where everyone feels divided as a result of the Red Scare, racial bigotry, and international hatred, people are very individualized and as a result are less empathetic towards others. He decided to show the positive side of people to symbolize the, “universal Humanity.” In other words, by taking pictures of the bright and glorious side of people, there is a higher possibility there will be a feeling of togetherness as human beings. People will feel less appalled and repelled from each other and rather feel closer and prouder of who they as people of the world.

    The Family of Man, which Steichen later published, gave a different attitude towards mankind. Hirsch’s statement, “If The Family of Man is, in Alan Sekula’s terms, a ‘guidebook for the collapse of the political into the familial’, the camera, the family picture, and the family album are effective instruments of this collapse,” refers to how the context of the book created a “universal” opinion of humans. The book has photographs of people from all walks of life in a positive directions. Everyone depicted in the book begins to meld together as they all express similar emotions and desires. It created a common place that anyone could look at and relate to. This “commonality” parallels that of, “the camera, the family picture, and the family album,” in a sense because these items are things that virtually all people of the world can relate to in some way. Family photographs are what people relate to as others of their own blood and heritage, and in a way, The Family of Man enables everyone to relate to anyone. It elicits the idea that everyone is part the same family making one universal family album.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      Collapse does not imply a positive commonality as much as it implies a negative one. What is Hirsch’s negative assessment of “The Family of Man”?

  20. Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man is a collection of photographs that were displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In Marianne Hirsch’s essay, she says The Family of Man is a “guidebook for the collapse of the political into the familial,” meaning that Steichen’s photographs help to show the transition of a focus on political and social issues to a focus on family. There was a lot of tension amongst countries around the time that the exhibition was opened since it was in the middle of the Cold War. While people were concentrating on the difference in politics that separate the U.S. from the Soviet Union, Steichen was concentrating on the aspect that is similar all over the world: family. No matter where you are in the world, family will always be an important part of a culture. Steichen’s photographs show families of all different cultures and ethnicities, and although their clothes and skin may be different, there is a clear similarity in the way they raise a family. A good example of this is the series of family portraits on pages 54-59 of The Family of Man. The cultures are clearly different, but each photograph is still structured in a similar way. The collection of photographs was not only displayed in New York, but all over the world. This also represents how Steichen’s photographs aided in the collapse of the political because people were captivated by the photographs and did not attach political issues to them, they simply saw them as families around the world.

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