JANUARY 27, 1955
SARASOTA, Fla.—On Monday evening I attended a preview of the photographic exhibit called "The Family of Man" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This collection of 500 photographs by 280 photographers from 68 countries was conceived and prepared by Mr. Edward Steichen, director of the museum's department of photography.
Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sandburg were there to commemorate the occasion and it was a joy to see them. In fact, there were many people I was glad to see, such as Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Meyer, who had come in from Washington, and Dorothy Norman, and Nelson Rockefeller, who paid tribute to Mr. Steichen in a stirring short speech.
Thousands and thousands of photographs were examined before Mr. Steichen made his choices, which makes "The Family of Man" a memorable exhibit.
Some of the young people who worked under Mr. Steichen, like my young friend, Doris O'Donnell, told me that his favorites are the collection showing birth and motherhood. There is one among these particular pictures of a baby's arms that I thought simply entrancing.
The captions were not as yet on all the pictures when we viewed the exhibit, and that was because at the last minute they did not entirely please Mr. Steichen.
I could not, however, have enjoyed anything more than I did the first impact of the collection. Joy is depicted by such a beautiful collection of photographs—fun, enjoyment, and, finally, the pleasures of food, drink, of daily living, of the dawn of love. Eventually, one comes to the sorrow of death, the horror of fear and despair and the cruelty of man to man.
How strange it is that there can be such perfect love and such cruelty side by side!
I liked the photograph of the United Nations General Assembly with the words of the Charter, which are used as a caption for the entire exhibition. In a way they symbolize the hope of man. If enough of us can cling to those aims, some of the cruelty will disappear and more of the maturity of love and understanding may emerge.
It seemed to me that perhaps one area was somewhat neglected, and that was the area of the work of man. That is a most important part in the lives of men and women, in some lives the most important part, particularly when the work is creative work. It is often such a large part of man's existence that it would seem to be essential to mark it more clearly in a collection such as the museum's.
Perhaps I am wrong, however. There was such a crowd at the preview that even with Mr. Rene d'Harnoncourt's kind guidance I had difficulty in not starting at the wrong end of the exhibition and going backward. I may well have missed some of the photographs.
There is one special photograph of Mr. Steichen's own mother, showing her bringing out food from the house, which one should not miss. I know I shall return to be sure I have not missed any part of this remarkable exhibition.