The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
The Family of Man, as Told by the Family of Man
Periodically—given the fleeting nature of life and the ubiquity of photographic imagery—it’s seems like someone’s always trying to hatch another ambitious image-based cultural project to prove that, despite our differences, we’re pretty all much the same. So it was in 1955, when the Museum of Modern Art that sponsored Edward Steichen’s historic exhibition, The Family of Man, which gathered over five hundred images made by photographers around the world with the goal of showing how, in the Cold War era, our humanity leveled and made us “one.” So it was again in the 1980s, when Rick Smolan and David Cohen took a more entrepreneurial tack and launched a series of popular and profitable publications, the glossy Day in the Life books, each one a corporate-sponsored time capsule filled with uplifting images commissioned or rounded up from photojournalists around the world.
A video featuring photographs from Steichen's exhibition the "Family of Man" from when the exhibition was displayed in Clervaux, Luxembourg.
Today, you can make a strong argument that websites like Flickr and YouTube now fulfill similar needs. But it’s still the desire of ambitious image impresarios to shape vast quantities of the visual images into narratives that explains the genesis of a recent project reported on in a New York Times article by Brooks Barnes. That piece describes how Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman, “one a pony-tailed California dude and the other a buttoned-down business type” started a video anthology project,One Day on Earth back in 2008, and continue to expand on it. Their goal is to create a free online archive of videos made by people around the world that showcases “the amazing diversity, conflict, tragedy, and triumph that occur in one day” and to create feature films from the miscellany of materials that come in. Last year, they took their first stab at it, based on material generated on October 10, 2010 (10/10/10). This November—on 11/11/11—they’re giving it another try and already have thousands of volunteers signed up to participate.
A recent trailer for the film "One Day on Earth”.
While the better -known feature film director, Ridley Scott (who made Blade Runner, Alien, and Gladiator) released his own crowd-sourced feature made in partnership with YouTube, titled Life in a Day, this summer, the One Day on Earth team is teaming up with over sixty humanitarian organizations, including Human Rights Watch, World Wildlife, and the United Nations Development Program which, impressed with the archive of videos already submitted, has committed to making the updating the One Day on Earth archive an annual event through 2015.
Given that increasing numbers of well-made and hard-hitting documentary feature films that now reach wide audiences at film festivals, in movie theaters and through digital distribution networks like Netflix, it will be interesting to see whether One Day on Earth can avoid the kind of sentimental and stereotypic clips that have characterized so many similar well-meaning, but “It’s a Small World, After All” kinds of projects. Litman and Ruddick, who insist that making money is not their primary goal, have also received technological support from Vimeo.com, a YouTube competitor, and Ning.com, a social network. “We don’t want to just create a film,” Mr. Litman said. “We’re trying a create a movement.” And, we hope, a unique archive that will be available to all.