Show World

All this is very much in the "Family of Man" mold, with one major exception: Of the 275 photographers from 164 countries gathered for "M.I.L.K.," only a handful have a reputation outside the field of photojournalism. Steichen's exhibition rounded up work by the great photographers of his time, including Dorothea Lange, Roy DeCarava, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Lisette Model, Brassaï, Robert Frank, Bill Brandt, and Irving Penn. Not one comparable name is involved in "M.I.L.K.," with the exception of Elliott Erwitt, a "Family" contributor who served as chief judge of the massive competition that project organizer Blackwell set up and got funded. Although international competitions aren't exactly magnets for established photographers of any stripe, Blackwell's $750,000 prize pool drew 17,000 entries and netted him several Pulitzer Prize winners along with a host of talented unknowns and lucky amateurs—none bad, none distinguished.

National Geographic exotica meets Life magazine populism in the "M.I.L.K." installation at Vanderbilt Hall.
photo: Robin Holland
National Geographic exotica meets Life magazine populism in the "M.I.L.K." installation at Vanderbilt Hall.


Vanderbilt Hall
Grand Central Station
Through August 16

The resulting show and its companion books make no demands on their audience and offer only the flimsiest, most illusory rewards. No one will go broke reassuring us that the world is really a peaceful, loving place, but what do we get out of it but more self-congratulatory smugness? Blackwell might share Steichen's one-world philosophy, but his idealism is tainted by opportunism, and without Steichen's concern for the art of photography, he can't back it up. Though it was hardly a celebration of the avant-garde, "The Family of Man" was a showcase for artists of genuine vision and stature. Absent that vision, "M.I.L.K." has nothing of substance to offer—just an unabashedly lavish dose of secondhand conservatism and happy-face populism.

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