November 17, 2010  |  Artists, Behind the Scenes, Library and Archives
Edward Steichen Archive: The 55th Anniversary of The Family of Man

Visitors await entry to The Family of Man, an exhibition organized by The Museum of Modern Art, at the Government Pavilion, Johannesburg, Union of South Africa (on view August 30–September 13, 1958). From The International Council/International Program Exhibition Records. Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

This year marked the 55th anniversary of the opening of MoMA’s photography exhibition The Family of Man, a show that was groundbreaking in its extent—503 images by 273 photographers originating in 69 countries—its physical design, and the numbers of people who experienced it.

Installation view of the exhibition The Family of Man, on view January 24–May 8, 1955 at The Museum of Modern Art. Gelatin silver print. Photographic Archive, The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Photo by Rolf Petersen. © 2010 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Designed by architect Paul Rudolph, and featuring introductory text by poet Carl Sandburg, the exhibition opened on 53 Street in January 1955, and would be seen at 88 venues in 37 countries. Perhaps members of your family were among the 9 million who saw the exhibition at one of its locations, or some of the 2.5 million who had the accompanying catalog on their bookshelves at home.

Edward Steichen—photographer, painter, designer, and director of MoMA’s Department of Photography from 1947 to 1961—spent three years organizing the exhibition. During his tenure at MoMA, among the many other exhibitions he organized were Abstraction in Photography and Diogenes with a Camera.

From left: installation view of the exhibition Abstraction in Photography, on view May 1 to July 4, 1951, at The Museum of Modern Art. Installation view of the exhibition Diogenes with a Camera, on view May 20 to September 1, 1952, at The Museum of Modern Art. Both images by Soichi Sunami, and from The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

Assembled in the Museum’s Department of Photography from 1968 to 1980, the Edward Steichen Archive contains a wealth of information about Steichen, The Family of Man, and many other exhibitions he organized. This rich resource, intended to aid study of Steichen’s life and creative output, includes original correspondence, photographs and sketches, still and moving images, tearsheets, and much more material still to be documented.

Edward Steichen, Director, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art. Photo undated. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Photo: Homer Page

In September 2010, I began a one-year project rehousing and fully describing the Steichen Archive under the auspices of MoMA’s Museum Archives. When the project is completed next year, the collection will be fully accessible to researchers and scholars. Look for additional blog entries over the course of the year, as I discover more treasures from this fascinating archive.


Wonderful blog! Look forward to the next entry.
It is nice to be reminded that Edward Steichen had such a diverse career as photographer, painter, designer, and director of the Photography Department at MoMA. Wow!

why am I not surprised that of all the images from which to chose, you put the Government Pavillion in Johannesburg Union of South Africa front and center.
I love this.
bring it.

I’m thrilled with this project! Long overdue. Can’t wait to read more and, eventually, access the archive myself. Bravo.

Nice work. Keep on writing.

I’m one of the millions with the Family of Man catalogue on my bookshelf, but I had no idea the exhibition traveled so widely, or was designed by Paul Rudolph! Can’t wait to hear about your discoveries in the archive.

Excellent piece. It’s great to hear how it’s going. And the images you chose are super. Look forward to up-dates as things progress.

Thank you all for the great responses. The show obviously conjures up vivid memories from viewers, and the catalog continues to strike a chord with readers.

Other responses I’ve received include:

– “I have the Family of Man catalog at my office. It’s so beautiful”

-“My parents — for years — had The Family of Man collection on their coffee table.”

-“I actually am old enough to remember seeing the Family of Man exhibit at the old MoMA building and still have the catalog I purchased that day with ‘my own money’ (I was proud to say.)”

Nice work! I’m excited to see more…

I’ve been thinking about photographs quite a bit, and the Family of Man show often comes to mind – it may play a part in the eventual dissertation… I’ll know who to come to if and when it does!

Keep it up! Cheers…

Question: Did Steichen design the book and cover?

-In answer to Tom Morin’s question, the catalogue was designed by the multitalented Leo Lionni (1910-1999): designer, illustrator, author, critic.

-Another private reply that I received to this post: “This exhibition opened a whole new world to me.”

Fascinating work! I picked up a first edition of the book years ago as a young anthropology student with a passion for photography. Any updates to report?

See the second post on the processing of this collection, about Steichen’s delphinium farming, at

I read your report about the Family of Man exhibition with utmost interest. May I ask you how many foreign countries did the exhibit travel to and approximately how many people saw it? Steichen’s My Life in Photography and Niven’s biography say more than 9 million in 69 countries had seen it by 1963. Sandeen’s Picturing an Exhibition (p.96) mentions it travelled to 38 countries by 1962 without mentioning the approximate total number of viewers. You write the exhibition would be seen in 37 countries. I thought Sandeen might have included the United States, but my reading suggests that he does not include the US.

I am writing an article (in Japanese) which mostly deals with the exhibition in Japan. I need documentation for the number of the countries the exhibit visited and the often mentioned number of the viewers (more than 900 million), which I am not sure includes Americans or not. Since what I have read so far makes me confused, I would greatly appreciate it if you would give me any information.

In answer to Fumiko Fujita’s inquiry:

I can certainly understand your confusion in trying to determine the exact numbers of viewers of the exhibition, especially since it traveled in various versions over a long period of time.

Series V.B. of the Archive includes an enormous amount of information on the exhibition in the United States and other countries, including many different estimates of numbers, from varying sources.

The finding aid for the collection has very recently been completed and is now available at

I invite you to use this online resource to determine which folders might be most useful to your research, and to use the materials in person by making an appointment at the MoMA Archives:

Thank you for your interest in the Edward Steichen Archive.

I am desperately trying to find a list of the venues where the exhibition travelled to, is there any way you can advise me? It would help to find out whether the show was displayed in the UK and if so, where. Thank you.

Hi GS,
It’s tricky finding a complete itinerary for The Family of Man because several different versions traveled in several tours, over several years. We can confirm, though, that it was indeed shown in the UK. According to our records, it was shown in London at the The Royal Festival Hall, August 1-30 (possibly extended through September 12), 1956.
Hope this helps!

Is there information on the exhibition in Cuba? Do you know when it visited Havana?


Hi Stephanie,
Our records indicate that The Family of Man did travel to Havana, in 1957.
If you have further questions, we would also recommend that you contact the Archives directly, which you may do on our Web site: We’re happy to help!

Who took the theme picture of the boy with the flute on the front cover? Is it possible to get a good print suitable for framing of this photo anywhere?

Hi Sherman,
We believe you’re referring to Eugene Harris’s photograph “Piper” from 1955. This photograph is actually not in MoMA’s Collection, but the Photography Study Center may have additional information. You can find their contact information here:

I saw this exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa as a seven year old child, and it made a huge unforgettable impact on me. I still have the catalogue as one of my most treasured belongings. It has inspired me throughout my life as a human being and as an artist, I have done paintings based on a couple of the photos and a lino cut from a doodle which I did, which I later realised was a stylised drawing of the photo of the boy with the flute, which was a recurring theme throughout the exhibition. It was not only the wonderful images but the humanity and thinking behind the exhibition, showing all people, world wide as human and equal. This was especially meaningful in the face of apartheid in South Africa. This should be on permanent display and not just for scholars.

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