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.