In the heart of a small Luxemburg village, one of the greatest photography exhibitions of all time
Discovering “The Family of Man” at Clervaux Castle
1 TO 2 Hour visit
At Clervaux Castle, which graces a village of approximately 5,000 souls, we discovered one of the greatest photographic exhibitions of all time! The scope and size of the exhibition remain unrivalled to this day. Never have as many photographs and photographers been brought together in a single exhibition. The man behind the exhibition, Edward Steichen, recounts the history of mankind through the lenses of hundreds of photographers; some iconic and others totally anonymous.
The Family of Man was shown for the first time in New York in 1955
A gigantic exhibition
As soon as we set foot in the exhibition, what immediately strikes us is the impressive number of photos brought together in one single exhibition. No less than 503 pictures taken by 273 photographers are exhibited here. “The Family of Man” is often described as the greatest photography exhibition of all times, but the description hardly does the show justice...
We explore the different rooms, each presenting one or several universal subjects of human life : love, dancing, music, family, career, children, war…A total of 37 subjects organize this multitude of images into a hierarchy.
“A manifesto for peace and the fundamental equality of mankind”
All of the big names of humanist photography are there for us to admire: August Sander, Willy Ronis, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa… Surrounded by the works of nameless photographers whose pictures are every bit as good as the works of their more famous counterpart.
Seminal images from my years as an Art History student come flooding back to me, like the picture of the worker with a cold, determined expression taken by August Sander or that world-famous picture of a couple kissing on a busy Parisian street taken by Robert Doisneau. Legend has it that the picture had been carefully staged, and not – contrary to popular belief – a candid picture. I can hear the voice of my former art teacher resounding in my head.
A major and groundbreaking exhibition in which the faces of nameless men and woman from the four corners of the earth rub shoulders with top United Nations representatives or leading political figures.
The exhibition has been seen by over 9 million people!
A portrait of mankind, for peace and equality
Through this exhibition, Edward Steichen recounts the history of mankind. He shows us mankind as being intrinsically different, but at the same time sharing an essential oneness.
In the section devoted to childbirth, there are about twenty photographs of twenty different women from all around the globe giving birth to their child. A double-sided print shows a family portrait taken somewhere in Africa on one side, and a different family – probably American - on the other.
As we visit the exhibition as we progress through the exhibition we understand the purpose of this pictorial multitude. It doesn't matter whether you live in Paris, New Delhi or Nairobi, we all share the same aspirations and desires: love, joy, music, family, etc. We share the same aspirations because we all belong to one single community, the community of mankind. This humanist exhibition draws attention to the universality of human experience, sending a message that is still topical and that bears repeating. Wherever we are and whoever we are, we aspire to the same things and we are not that different despite our dissimilar backgrounds and origins.
The exhibition was curated within the unique context of the post-war era. Certain images illustrate international summits, nuclear war or even famous politicians shaking hands. It’s a testimony from an era that aspires to find peace and to instate equality for all.
An exhibition seen by millions
Before settling down inside the historic walls of Clervaux Castle, the exhibition toured the world. It was first shown in 1955 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York. Then, between 1955 and 1964, the installation travelled the world, and was seen by nine million visitors. India, Mexico, France, Zimbabwe, South Africa…The pictures are seen all over the world.
In 1994, after the exhibition is shown in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Toulouse, and after restoration of the pictures, it is installed as a permanent exhibition in Clervaux, in compliance with the wishes of its curator, whose home country was Luxemburg.
In 2003, it was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World register.