In the vein of our previous posts about The Family of Man and The Family of Woman, we continue our feature series on the books that were published by Jerry Mason and Ridge Press from 1955 to 1979. Family, by Margaret Mead and photographed by Ken Heyman, grew from a student-teacher respect between Mead and Heyman at Columbia University into a twenty-year working relationship. Unlike other similar exhibits and books like The Family of Man and The Family of Woman, each photograph was taken by the same person – Heyman – within seven years. As a result, its point of view is not defined by a curator or an editor but shaped by a single artist. The book itself is an expansive and revealing portrait of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, and friends from around the world. What singles this book out from others of its kind is that it combines the guidance of an anthropologist with the perspective of a photographer.
Margaret Mead is one of America’s most renowned cultural anthropologists, studying psychology of culture, including sexuality, character, and race. She was not a stranger to controversy, taking strong stances on women’s rights, child-rearing, sexual morality, pollution, and nuclear proliferation, among many other topics. Though she is listed as the author of the book, Mead gives credit to Heyman for taking the anthropological techniques she taught him and utilizing them to create a cohesive collection of humanity.
While books and exhibits like The Family of Man have been criticized for taking images out of context, or manipulating images of poor individuals to shape perceptions, in Family Mead explains that Heyman was aware of and intended to capture images from all walks of life. “When he works with a family, however briefly, the very fact that he, a complete outsider, is permitted to witness the shared feast, the bathing of the child, the hours of relaxation when people have finished their day’s work gives a special intimacy to his pictures – the intimacy that lifts a veil momentarily for the stranger… Some of these scenes come from highly fortunate homes, others from homes of the very poor… Ken Heyman did not seek out the poor; they are everywhere.”
The text and photography focus on relationships between members of a family or an individual within a familial group. Photographs were taken in 45 different countries, encompassing a wide range of cultures and individuals. The book sold over a million copies, becoming one of the top-selling photography books in the world. It was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, the year it published. Within the text, Mead explains that the idea of family dates as far back as history and human knowledge can take us. While modern families might take a different form than those depicted here, she acknowledges that there is no single picture of what a family is—naiveties of the past cannot limit ideas that emerge as cultures evolve.
Whatever form a family takes, its existence or absence shapes who we all are. The photographs within Family reveal elements of that idea. “As in our bodies we share our humanity, so also through the family we have a common heritage. This heritage provides us with a common language that survives and transcends all the differences in linguistic form, social organization, religious belief, and political ideology that divide men. And as men must not irrevocably perish or survive together, the task of each family is also the task of all humanity. This is to cherish the living, remember those who have gone before, and prepare for those who are not yet born.”
Find Family here.
Read back on The Journal to learn more about The Family of Man and The Family of Woman: A World-Wide Photographic Perception of Female Life and Being.
This post contains some affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of these links, we will get a small commission. Thanks for supporting the Alabama Chanin Journal.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful designs in all that you do, including your series on artists. I’ve learned so much from you. I find it you to be very refreshing in the ways that you share your talents.
Thank you for your kind words and support, Patricia.