The Pivot of the World: Photography and Its Nation
The old dream of social belonging and political sovereignty--the dream ofnation--was fraught with anxiety and contradiction for many artists andintellectuals in the 1950s. On the one hand, memories of the Second World Warremained vivid and the chauvinism that had enabled it threatened to return with thegrowing tensions of the Cold War. On the other hand, the need to bind together intoa new global identity--into a world nation or "family of man"--seemed ever morepressing as a bulwark against the rapidly expanding threat of a nuclear World WarIII.The Pivot of the World looks at an exceptional effort to work out thatgeopolitical tension by cultural means as developed in three hugely ambitiousphotographic projects: The Family of Man exhibition that opened in 1955 and traveledthe world for the next decade; Robert Frank's influential book The Americans, photographed in 1955-1956 and first published in 1958; and Bernd and Hilla Becher'stypological record of industrial architecture, begun in 1957 and continuing today.Each of these projects worked to release the dream of nation--of belonging andsovereignty--from its old civic trappings through the medium of photography's serialform, in the experience of one photograph followed by another and another andanother, so that all seem at once intimately connected and at the same timeautonomous and distinct. Innovations in the serial composition of photographic formcould open new possibilities for social form while the modern desire for politicalbelonging could be made cosmopolitan, could be globalized--but in the most human ofways. This epic sense of purpose lasted only for a moment--it had already passed bythe beginning of the 1960s--but it bears particular interest for any historicalunderstanding of the contest over globalization that continues to hold such greatconsequence for us now.