June 23, 2011


In 1955 Edward Steichen was curator for a collection of photographs from around the world that were to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. The purpose was to celebrate the best examples of this creative medium. What it achieved was far more. Steichen gave to the public a distillation of the human experience apart from notions of time and international borders. The exhibit so fixed itself upon the minds of its viewers that the experience was memorialized in a book, “The Family of Man.” Its prologue was written by the American poet, Carl Sandburg:

                                 “There is only one man in the world

                                and his name is All Men.

                                There is only one Woman in the world

                                and her name is All Women.

                                There is only one child in the world,

                                and the child’s name is All Children.


(book cover detail: “The Family of Man”)

I thought about that book and those words recently when “Vanity Fair” featured a similar tableau with photographs of the freedom fighters who occupied Egypt’s Tahrir Square (“Vanity Fair,” May 2011). Men and women who suffered equally at the height of the revolution were basking in the pages of the magazine, their faces aglow with the joy of their success. A new democracy had been born and the world was invited to be its witness and to celebrate. 

I know I rejoiced. But if I’d been invited to write a prologue for this Egyptian edition, I’d have replaced Sandburg’s poem with a single line:

                                “There is only one face in a democratic world

                                and it is all people.”