Coffee table books have fallen out of fashion in today’s digital world. Our books are as likely to be bound by bits and bytes as they are by cloth and stitching. Yesterday a memory was jostled free from the cobwebs of my mind, recalling a book on my family coffee table when I was growing up.
The Family of Man
The Family of Man was the epitome of coffee table books. It was filled with beautiful black and white photos of people around the world, catalogued from a 1955 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The exhibit was curated by Edward Steichen and featured 503 photographs from 68 countries, 273 of which were taken by amateur photographers. Many of those photos are etched into my memories and instantly recognizable.
Steichen considered it a collective portrait of humanity. I was too young to appreciate the larger message, but I remember sitting on the floor for what seemed like hours, slowly turning each crisp page and absorbing each photograph. The photos conveyed the gamut of human emotion and experience. What was that experience like? How are they feeling? My mind filled in the backstory and I connected with my extended family of man.
As it turns out, The Family of Man is still in print. There are probably quite a few coffee tables that could benefit from a copy. Maybe it can bring our family together.