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Why photograph outsiders?

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“YOU might find yourself saying ‘I am not a stranger here.’” The comforting words, printed in a pamphlet for “The Family of Man” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, would have been read by more than 250,000 visitors to the exhibition in 1955. As cold-war anxieties roiled, making conformity seem like an important tool for survival, the show presented a compendium of 503 photographs from 69 countries, taken by 273 photographers. The walls were lined with pictures of French brides laughing on swings, small boys playing with marbles in Java, and Dutch mothers nursing their children. For Edward Steichen, the curator (and a photographer in his own right), it mirrored what he called “the essential oneness and goodness of man”. 

More than 60 years later, being a stranger is precisely the point of another photography show, “Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins” at the Barbican Centre in London. Though “The Family of Man” was a resounding success (viewed by more than 10m people, it toured the world for eight…Continue reading

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