A Flickr of Humanity

Our first project in the New Curators Program! Reinhabiting a classic 1955 exhibition and catalogue with new ideas.

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, celebrating 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, now considered a photographic classic.

You can visit the exhibition’s page on the MoMA website to find out more.

Fast forward 68 years to May 2023.

After a conversation with one of our research partners, Eliza Gregory, about using that exhibition and catalogue as a possible “container” for new projects in our New Curators program, Eliza’s colleague at the Sacramento State Photography Program, Nick Shepard tasked his students with curating a new version, reimagining and re-presenting The Family of Man using contemporary imagery.

Over the course of 10 hours his students collected over 200 images from Flickr, curating them to explore different themes reflective of our time such as life during COVID, Californian wildfires, or the LGBTQ and BLM movements to more timeless themes of love and the stages of life.

The result was the first volume of this new idea, which the team in Sacramento called A Flickr of Humanity.

“This project has demonstrated a challenge: we only have access to images from those who are able to upload their work to Flickr. And yet, it also shows the opportunity of digital photography: we have gathered images by over 160 photographers from around the world, to show their perspectives on the world.

It has made me keenly aware of the importance of Flickr Foundation’s mandate to preserve the archive of images for years to come.”

– Nick Shepard

In the same way that The Family of Man offers a window into life in the post-WWII era, A Flickr of Humanity offers insight into our world in the early 21st century.

If someone in 2091 (68 years from now) looked through A Flickr of Humanity what would they see? What might they feel?  

As Flickr is a rich source of photos with Creative Commons (CC) licensing (being one of the largest repositories of CC content), there is much potential for more curatorial projects to flourish.

Volume 3: A Generated Family of Man

In the summer of 2023, we set out to explore the start of the art of public image generation tools to see how far AI-generation technology has come, and how human intervention is represented. We developed our first printed matter, a tribute to the original catalogue. It’s a time capsule, too.

Imagine 1000 versions of A Flickr of Humanity!

Each published by a different person or organisation, showcasing different views and perspectives of our world.

The narrative of A Flickr of Humanity is rich because it was curated through Flickr – a photography platform where anyone and everyone can share their visual thoughts. The challenge that comes from this is that each image’s copyrights permission differs and the curators must conscientiously select images.

Therefore, we created a second version of A Flickr of Humanity using images with appropriate CC licensing. (See the blog post for the process of creating V2 and see this gallery of all the selected photos.) We see this as a step towards setting a good example around the correct use of the Creative Commons licensing.

Inspired by A Flickr of Humanity, we are starting to think about curation tools and systems which could help people and organisations to create their own A Flickr of Humanity publications. In particular, creating guidelines for finding and documenting licensing and appropriately crediting photographers.