Creating A Generated Family of Man

Author: Maya Osaka

Find out about the process that went into creating A Generated Family of Man, the third volume of A Flickr of Humanity.

A Flickr of Humanity is the first project in the New Curators program, revisiting and reinterpreting The Family of Man, an exhibition held at MoMa in 1955. The exhibition showcased 503 photographs from 68 countries, celebrating universal aspects of the human experience. It was a declaration of solidarity following the Second World War. 

For our third volume of A Flickr of Humanity we decided to explore the new world of generative AI using Microsoft Bing’s Image Creator to regenerate The Family of Man catalog (30th Anniversary Edition). The aim of the project was to investigate synthetic image generation to create a ‘companion publication’ to the original, and that will act as a timestamp, to showcase the state of generative AI in 2023.

Project Summary

  1. We created new machine-generated versions of photographs from The Family of Man by writing a caption for each image and passing it through Microsoft Bing’s Image Creator. These images will be referred to as Human Mediated Images (HMI.)
  2. We fed screenshots of the original photographs into ImageToCaption, an AI-powered caption generator which produces cheesy Instagramesque captions, including emojis and hashtags. These computed captions were then passed into Bing’s Image Creator to generate an image only mediated by computers. These images will be referred to as AI-generated Images (AIGI).

We curated a selection of these generated images and captions into the new publication, A Generated Family of Man.

Image generation process

It is important to note that we decided to use free AI generators because we wanted to explore the most accessible generative AI.

Generating images was time-consuming. In our early experiments, we generated several iterations of each photograph to try and get it as close to the original as possible. We’d vary the caption in each iteration to work towards a better attempt. We decided it would be more interesting to limit our caption refinements so we could see and show a less refined output. We decided to set a limit of two caption-writing iterations for the HMIs.

For the AIGIs we chose one caption from the three from the first set of generated responses. We’d use the selected caption to do one iteration of image generation, unless the caption was blocked, in which case we would pick another generated caption and try that. 

Once we had a good sense of how much labour was required to generate these images, we set an initial target to generate half of the images in the original publication. The initial image generation process, in which we spawned roughly 250 of the original photographs took around 4 weeks. We then had roughly 500 generated images with (about half HMIs and half AIGIs), and we could begin the layout work.

Making the publication

The majority of the photographs featured in The Family of Man are still in copyright so we were unable to feature the original photographs in our publication. That’s apart from the two Dorothea Lange photographs we decided to feature, and which have no known copyright. 

We decided to design the publication to act as a ‘companion publication’ to the original catalog. As we progressed making the layout, we imagined the ideal situation: the reader would have an original The Family of Man catalogue to hand to compare and contrast the original photographs and generated images side by side. With this in mind we designed the layout of the publication as an echo of the original, to streamline this kind of comparison.

It was important to demonstrate the distinctions between HMI and AIGI versions of the original images, so in some cases we shifted the layout to allow this.

Identifying HMIs and AIGIs

There was a lot of discussion around whether a reader would identify an image as an HMI or AIGI. All of the HMI images are black and white—because “black and white” and “grainy” were key human inputs in our captions to get the style right—while most of the AIGI images came out in colour. That in itself is an easy way to identify most of the images. We made the choice to use different typefaces on the captions too.

It is fascinating to compare the HMI and AIGI imagery, and we wanted to share that in the publication. So, in some cases, we’ve included both image types so readers can compare. Most of the image pairs can be identified because they share the same shape and size. All HMIs also sit on the left hand side of their paired AIGI. 

In both cases we decided that a subtle approach might be more entertaining as it would leave it in the readers hands to interpret or guess which images are which.

To watermark, or not to watermark?

Another issue that came up was around how to make it clear which images are AI-generated as there are a few images that are actual photographs. All AI images generated by Bing’s Image Creator come out with a watermark in the bottom left corner. As we made the layout, some of the original watermarks were cropped or moved out of the frame, so we decided to add the watermarks back into the AI-generated images in the bottom left corner so there is a way to identify which images are AI-generated.

Captions and quotes

In the original The Family of Man catalog, each image has a caption to show the photographer’s name, the country the photograph was taken in, and any organizations  the photograph is associated with. There are also quotes that are featured throughout the book. 

For A Generated Family of Man we decided to use the same typefaces and font sizes as the original publication. 

We decided to display the captions that were used to generate the images because we wanted to illustrate our inputs, and also those that were computer-generated. Our captions are much longer than the originals, so to prevent the pages from looking too cluttered, we added captions to a small selection of images. We decided to swap out the original quotes for quotes that are more relevant to the 21st century.

Below you can see some example pages from A Generated Family of Man.


I had never really thought about AI that much before working on this project. I’ve spent weeks generating hundreds of images and I’ve gotten familiar with communicating with Bing’s Image Creator. I’ve been impressed by what it can do while being amused and often horrified by the weird humans it generates. It feels strange to be able to produce an image in a matter of seconds that is of such high quality, especially when we look at images that are not photo-realistic but done in an illustrative style. In ‘On AI-Generated Works, Artists, and Intellectual Property ‘, Ryan Merkley says ‘There is little doubt that these new tools will reshape economies, but who will benefit and who will be left out?’. As a designer it makes me feel a little worried about my future career as it feels almost inevitable, especially in a commercial setting, that AI will leave many visual designers redundant. 

Generative AI is still in its infancy (Bing’s Image Creator was only announced and launched in late 2022!) and soon enough it will be capable of producing life-like images that are indistinguishable from the real thing. If it isn’t already. For this project we used Bing’s Image Creator, but it would be interesting to see how this project would turn out if we used another image generator such as MidJourney, which many consider to be at the top of its game. 

There are bound to be many pros and cons to being able to generate flawless images and I am simultaneously excited and terrified to see what the future holds within the field of generative AI and AI technology at large.

A Flickr of Humanity: Who is The Family of Man?

Author: Maya Osaka (Design Intern) Posted July 10th 2023

Please enjoy a progress report on our R&D as we continue to develop the A Flickr of Humanity project. It’s a deep dive into the catalogue of the 1955 The Family of Man exhibition.

The Family of Man was an exhibition held at MoMA in 1955.

Organized by Edward Steichen, the acclaimed photographer, curator, and director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, the exhibition showcased 503 photographs from 68 countries. It celebrated universal aspects of the human experience, and was a declaration of solidarity following on from the Second World War. Photos from the exhibition were published as a physical catalog, and it’s largely considered a photographic classic.

Tasked with doing some research into The Family of Man I spent some time really looking at the book.

(The Family of Man 30th Anniversary Edition, 1986)

What I mean by ‘really looking at it’ is, instead of just flicking through the pages and briefly glancing at the photos I took the time to really take in each image, and to notice the narrative told through the photographs and how Steichen chose to curate the images to portray this narrative. From this experience I was able to see a clear order/narrative to the book which I listed in a spreadsheet. Each photo credits the photographer, where it was taken and which client or publication it was for (e.g. Life Magazine).

The introduction in the book explains that the exhibition was “conceived as a mirror of the universal elements and emotions in the everydayness of life—as a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world.”

As I explored the book, I found myself wanting to answer the following questions:

  1. Where were the photographers from?
  2. Where were the photos taken?
  3. How many female photographers were involved?
  4. Who were the most featured photographers? 

In order to answer these questions I created a master index of the photographs.

This shows where they appear in the book, the country depicted, the photographer and which organization the image is associated with or was made for. From this ‘master’ spreadsheet I compiled three more views:

Here is what I discovered:

46% of the photos were taken in the USA (vs the rest of the world).

Out of 484 images depicted in The Family of Man 30th Anniversary Edition (1986), 220 are from the USA. That’s 46% of all the photos. The most heavily featured countries after America were: France (32 images), Germany (21 images) and England (15 images). All in Europe. Compared to America’s 46%, France, the runner up, makes up only 7% of the total number of images. 

The image is a screenshot of a section of the photos by geography spreadsheet.


75% of the images were shot in North America or Europe. 
  • Northern America: 231 images (out of which 220 are from the USA)
  • Europe: 128 images
  • Asia: 69 images (including 12 images shot in Russia)
  • Africa: 24
  • South America: 12
  • Oceania: 8
  • Arctic: 3
  • Australia: 2

At this stage I will note that as Russia spans across Asia and Europe, Russia’s 12 images have been included within Asia’s statistics (not Europe). Also the infographic excludes 3 images taken in the Arctic as they did not explicitly state which part of the Arctic they were taken in.

The image is a screenshot of a section of the photos by geography spreadsheet.

56% of the photographers were American.

Out of 251 known photographers, 155 were American. That is 56% of the total number of photographers. The most common nationalities that followed were: German (17), British and French (12 each), and 15 photographers were unknown. It is important to note that some of the photographers were multinationals and in these instances their birth nationality was counted. Information on the photographer’s nationalities were collected by searching up their name on the internet and looking for credible sources.

The image is a screenshot of a section of the photographer’s biographical data  spreadsheet. 

17% of the photographers were female.

Out of the 251 known photographers 48 were women. That is 17% of the total number of photographers. 

Note: There was one photograph that was credited to Diane and Allan Arbus. I counted them as two separate individuals (one male, one female).

The image is a screenshot of the photographer’s biographical data  spreadsheet. 

Which photographers were featured most?

  1. Wayne Miller (11 photos)
  2. Henri Cartier-Bresson (9 photos)
  3. Alfred Einstaedt (8 photos), Dmitri Kessell (8 photos), Dorothea Lange (8 photos), Nat Farbman (8 photos), Ruth Orkin (8 photos). 

The image is a screenshot of the most featured photographers spreadsheet. 


  1. The majority of photos were shot in the US and Europe. 
  2. More than half of the photographers were American.
  3. Most of the photographers were men.
  4. Among the top 10 most featured photographers were three women (Dorothea Lange, Ruth Orkin and Margaret Bourke White).

Where are the lost photos?

On the back of The Family of Man (30th Anniversary Edition, 1986) it is stated that all 503 images from the original exhibition are showcased within the book. However, after checking through the book multiple times the number of images that I have counted (excluding the introduction images featuring images of the exhibition itself and a portrait of Steichen) are 484. This means there are 19 images that are missing.

This mystery is currently being solved by my fellow intern, Juwon Jung, who, as I write this, is cross referencing the original MoMa exhibition master checklist with the book. We will keep you posted on whether this mystery gets solved!

Creating the Infographics

While collecting this data, I began to think about how this data could be visualized. Datasets on a spreadsheet are boring to look at and can struggle to effectively communicate what they mean. So I decided to create an infographic to showcase the datasets. 

Creating the infographics posed many creative challenges, especially because this was one of my first attempts at this sort of data visualization. One of the key challenges was to create visuals that are eye-catching but simple to read and communicate a clear message. In this case: that a disproportionately large amount of the photos and photographers are of or from the USA and the majority of photographers were men.

In order to draw attention to those facts, I used a combination of techniques: Firstly the statistics that I wanted to draw the most attention to are the brightest shade of pink. (The pink that was chosen is the same pink as the Flickr Foundation logo). Secondly, the pie chart and bar chart’s proportions are accurate and highlight just how disproportionate the statistics are. A comment next to each chart states a percentage that further highlights the point that is being made. 

George Oates (Executive Director at—who has extensive experience working in data visualisation—helped a lot with perfecting the look of the infographic. (Thanks George!)

Below you can see how the graphics evolved.
*Note that the statistics on previous versions are not accurate!