(41) The Family of Man

(41) The Family of Man

Despite its size, a good 8¼ in x 10 in, this sad, long neglected book not more than 200 pages suddenly came to live, touched gently by these hands, praised by these mouths regardless of its shabby appearance. Immediately after the prologue was a spread page showing the entrance into the exhibit The Family of Man, with an introduction by Edward Steichen, the curator of the show and a prominent figure of twentieth-century photography. But it was the page following that caught Wandy’s eyes.

The photograph appeared on the left was a bird eye’s view of a river running between a rugged, mountainous landscape. Reflecting sunlight from a misty sky the river looked like a silver python snaking between the rich black mountains. Just as her heart was full of praise of this astounding image Wandy found the caption on the bottom: China/Dmitri Kessel/Life. Taken back a little, she realized for the first time her strong feelings toward the heaviness of her motherland. This image was so atmospheric, history of the land so tumultuous that only a person from a country of equal intensity can detect. Her instinct was right, the photographer Dmitri Kessel was from Ukraine. The river was Yangtze, the shot taken in 1946 during the Chinese Civil War. Immediate to the right, the top half of the page was occupied by some texts, while the lower half was an image of, as the description went: An American soldier kissing his English girlfriend on the lawn in Hyde Park, one of the favourite haunts of US troops stationed in England, 1944. War time, yet they shared a moment of being romantic…was the soldier still alive after that fateful year? Wondered Wandy as she slowly ran through the texts below the image.

…and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes
and then he asked me would I yes…
and first I put my arms around him yes
and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes
and his heart was going like mad
and yes I said yes I will Yes.

James Joyce’s Ulysses! The last words by Molly Bloom, in her eight enormous ‘sentences’ soliloquy. What a spectacular layer added to the image! With her heart beating a little wild, Wandy passed the book to Yoji and Bill, who sat next to each other and asked them to look at the incredible pairing of image and text. “Who did the texts?” Bill examined the front, back and inside pages of the book. He found credits of the working team on the back cover. The prologue was written by Carl Sandburg, an acclaimed American poet, while the texts inside were quotations from world literature, selected by Steichen and Sandburg, and also with the help of Dorothy Norman. Dorothy Norman was ‘an American writer, photographer, editor, arts patron and advocate for social change’, and who, despite her achievements in these fields, was primarily known in the photography world as having been “the other woman” in Alfred Stieglitz’s life. The unspoken rivalry between she and Georgia O ‘Keeffe was immense.

“Let me have a better look.” George leaned over to Bill and took over the book. Picking up the corner of every page carefully, he studied each image with extreme care. “Without doubt these images are amazing, they came from the eyes of the best photographers in the world. But I’m more struck by the printing quality of this catalogue. It’s the kind of black and white printing we cannot find today. It has the delicate tones and richness of I would say, almost platinum prints, the black is richly black and the white shines like, like silver…amazing.”