What: Reconsidering The Family of Man
Where: Artspace at [Untitled]
1 NE 3rd St, OKC
In 1955 “The Family of Man” opened at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York and went on to become a momentous photography exhibition. Renowned photographer and curator Edward Steichen organized the original show and the exhibit toured 6 US cities before it took a 6-year journey that would eventually encompass 38 countries. By the time the original exhibition finished circulating, over 9 million people had seen it and over 1 million books had been sold. Today almost everyone who has studied photography is aware of the concept behind “The Family of Man” and the book remains in print with over 4 million copies sold.
But if you’re new to the idea, here’s the gist: “The Family of Man” was not conceived as a fine art photography exhibition. Rather, it was Steichen’s parting gift of artistic vision after a long and distinguished career. The concept was not to focus on any individual photograph or artistic style, but to immerse its viewers in the diverse but shared existence of mankind. The original collection hung from ceilings and had been mounted to the varying structures at various arts museum. Birth, death, and everything in between were the core subjects of these photographs.
Steichen had nearly 2 million photos to choose from when he started assembling “The Family of Man.” He narrowed the selection down to a final 503 photographs, which came from well-known and unknown photographers alike. Before the Internet gave us instant access to Flickr pools, Google image search, or any news outlet with photo essays and slideshows, this collection gave viewers insight that could not have been had otherwise.
[Artspace] at Untitled executive director Jon Burris said “Reconsidering the Family of Man” pays homage to the original show. The prints selected preserve an intensity of emotion and diversity of experience central to key elements of the initial show. To that end, of the nearly 5,000 photographs in the Photographic Society of America collection and of the 100 photographs in the Oklahoma Arts Institute collection, nearly 100 prints were selected for this exhibition. Burris said “Reconsidering the Family of Man” differs from the first effort in that the photographs will not be hung and mounted as an installation, rather they will run in a linear fashion chronicling everything between birth and death. The prints in “Reconsidering the Family of Man” are also originals.
Steichen also had photos that were enlarged to magnificent proportions for “Family of Man.” An Ansel Adams landscape that hung in the original show, as a massive back drop, is also on display in “Reconsidering the Family of Man,” but the print does not take up an entire wall and shares the space with a first edition of the “Family of Man” book. Additionally, Steichen had only photographs from the turn of the century to 1955, but Burris said this new collection includes prints up to the 1980s. This long view is fairly amazing, because even though the decades change, the core of human experience remain the same. The new collection is in black and white as well, which provides a form of continuity between the varied photographs on display. “Reconsidering the Family of Man” aims to be a more intimate view for attendees, and Burris said it is not uncommon to see people walk through an exhibition and then return to a particular image to study it more in depth.
Running adjacent to the show is a complimentary exhibition tucked into an alcove at Untitled. Where “Reconsidering the Family of Man” ends in the 1980s, Todd Stewart’s “In The Garden” series retains the family motif, but it is more contemporary and the prints are in full color. It is also worth mentioning that Untitled is planning a guest photographer lecture series, which will take place during the show’s run.
For more information on the gallery check out [Artspace] at Untitled. The show’s opening reception is February 3rd from 5 pm-8 pm. It will be on display until May. Admission is open to the public and children are welcomed.