Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3


VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: One of the things that happens throughout this century is that people are beginning to depend more and more on visual sources. I don’t know that many people thought about it a lot, but photographs are coming more and more into their lives. It became a language that everybody knew they could speak.

MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: Photographic images changed everybody’s understanding about you know not only what the world looked like but what news was.

HAL BUELL, Former Photo Editor, AP: Photography has a certain selective nature that will take an instant and maybe lift it up out of the ordinary, and therefore make bumps in history that you wouldn’t find if it were not for photography.

JERRY DELLA FEMINA, Advertiser: ...That moment in time when that Spanish, Civil War soldier is shot and bends back. Can you ever erase that image from your mind? Can anyone ever say, alright I saw it, I don’t have to see it again? I don’t remember?

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: By 1930, people really think that the photograph is the most trustworthy source of information. It’s the thing they want most. It’s the thing they believe in most. There’s no question that most ordinary Americans have been socialized in a way that says that seeing is believing, and the photograph is the most accurate way to see.




NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: And now, the latest miracle of news gathering, sending pictures by wire has lifted the curtain on a new era in newspaper history.

AP MAN: Washington? Tokyo

AP WOMAN: Can you hear me?

AP MAN: Good evening Tokyo.

NARRATOR: The Associated Press, Rockefeller Center, New York City. Each day, thousands of photographs come in from around the world. They arrive via telephone line and satellite link, minutes after they are taken in the field.

AP MAN: Kosovo in coverage continuing...

NARRATOR: From here they’re selected and distributed to news organizations around the world.


NARRATOR: If news happens anywhere on Earth, we’ll soon see a picture of it.

MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: The notion that everyone, or that many people see the same picture simultaneously is a pure 20th Century experience. Never did you have millions of people waking up and seeing the same pictures and seeing the same events pictured. It never happened.

HAL BUELL Former Photo Editor, AP: News is of today, and it’s what happened today and so the pictures also had to be of what happened today, and if the pictures lagged behind the story by any significant amount of time, the story is over and done with.

NARRATOR: In the 1930s, the daily paper was still the way most Americans got the news. Visionaries at the Associated Press decided that a process must be invented to transmit pictures as quickly as words. The system required a network of high fidelity telephone lines, and would be extremely expensive. Newspaper owners, who were being asked to pay the bill, were skeptical. Roy Howard, head of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, was convinced the whole thing was a big mistake. "There aren’t enough important pictures taken in the entire world," he said, "to justify the expense."

But on January 1, 1935, groups of technicians huddled around black machines across the country. The first transmission -- a dramatic photo of a plane crash.

The still-wet print was wrapped around the cylinder. The rotating drum converted the photograph’s black and white tones into a wavering, high pitched sound. In twenty-five cities across the country, twenty-five cylinders were rotating simultaneously, while recording the image on a photographic plate.

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: And the day after the first wire photo was sent was the opening of the Lindbergh murder kidnap trial, Bruno Hauptmann going on trial in New Jersey. That story pretty much sealed the success of the wire photo because it became clear that, yes, there were a lot of interesting pictures out there.

NARRATOR: In the following months, sensational news pictures flew back and forth across the country. Amelia Earhart landing in California after flying nonstop from Honolulu. G-men shooting ‘Ma’ Barker in a furious gunfight in Florida. Will Rogers, the folksy celebrity philosopher, killed in an airplane crash in Alaska. From this time on, big events, no matter where in the world they occurred, would be pictured on the front page of everyone’s newspaper on the same day.

HAL BUELL, Former Photo Editor, AP: The whole advent of wire journalism, both stories and pictures, tended to make the U.S. more of a one community as opposed to a more regionalized nation, which it was at that time.

NARRATOR: In 1937, the entire country was riveted by a huge news story. A story that Americans could witness almost instantly, because of wire photo.

MARTY LEDERHANDLER, AP Photographer: Lloyd Becker who was our chief photographer happened to be out at Lakehurst, when this Hindenburg was coming in and most photographers waited in the waiting room because the Hindenburg had been in before, and it was just another picture of the Hindenburg coming down and we had plenty of pictures, but anyway, he decided to put up the camera as it was coming in. Just as he held up the camera, it exploded and he hit the trigger. He got the first puff of explosion on the Hindenburg.

HAL BUELL, Former Photo Editor, AP: Murray Becker was using a Speed Graphic. Now a Speed Graphic is a large camera that’s held with two hands, and the way it operates is this: you put a holder in to the camera, full of film, you take out a slide that exposes the film to the shutter, you put the slide on the back of the camera, you cock the shutter, and you make the picture. Now you have to take the slide back out, you have to put it in the holder, you take out the holder, you turn the holder over because there’s a film on the other side, you put it in the camera, you pull the slide, you put it in the back, you cock the shutter, and you make the picture. The Hindenburg burned in forty-seven seconds, and Murray did that three times. So there was this instant of explosion which Murray photographed, and then as the Hindenburg burned in those few seconds, he made two more pictures. Remarkable piece of camera work.

RADIO ANNOUNCER: This is one of the worst catastrophes in the world. Oh...oh four or five hundred feet into the sky and’s a terrific smoke and the flames now...and it’s burning, crashing to the ground and not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity.


NARRATOR: The day the Hindenburg went down, the image eclipsed the words. From then on, it wasn’t really news if you didn’t have a picture.



TITLE: "Over the developing

tray in darkroom, history passed

through my hands...

Fires, explosions, railroad wrecks, gang wars..."


MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: As much as you want to see pictures about nice things, people want to see pictures of horrible things. People want to see the explosion, people want to see the murder, people want to see the carnage, people want to see death, people want to see all the things in pictures that are too scary in life to deal with. And that’s one of the things that makes it so impossible to understand the importance of photography, because it lets you see everything and lets you think about everything.


(8) NARRATOR: On November 23, 1936, a new magazine appeared on news stands. Publisher Henry Luce gave Americans something they had never seen before -- a glossy, large-format news magazine which used photographs to tell its stories. Never one to think small, Luce called the magazine quite simply, Life.

DAVID FRIEND, Vanity Fair: It was the biggest mass market hit in the history of publishing going back to Gutenberg. Nothing that ever had been published was as big an immediate sell out and it just took over. Why? Because it spoke in a language that everybody could understand. Pictures.

RICHARD STOLLEY, Life Magazine: It is very hard... I mean we’re so inundated with images now that it is almost impossible to comprehend how little of that existed when Life came out. There’d maybe be a picture on the front page of the newspaper, a few magazines would run pictures, nothing arrived in your home and opened up the world to you. This is precisely what Life did. The success of Life, the impact it had I’m sure surprised the absolute hell out of the people who launched it. I mean, I think Luce knew he was on to something.

(9a) NARRATOR: Henry Luce always had a fascination with what he called "picture magic". To introduce his new magazine to the world, he wrote an essay which described the many powers of photography. "To see life. To see the world. To watch the faces of the poor, and the gestures of the proud. To see strange things. Machines, armies, multitudes, and shadows in the jungle. To see, and to take pleasure in seeing. To see and be instructed. To see and be amazed..."

MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: You turn the pages of life magazine and there’s politics and there’s fashion and there’s movies and there’s advertising and there’s cars and there’s food and there’s homes and there’s tragedy and there’s happiness and if you think about what that was like in 1936 during the Depression as people are just trying to understand what’s going on in this country, it’s amazing.

(9b) NARRATOR: Life perfected the format of the photo essay. The photographs, selected and arranged on the page, would tell the story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

BARBARA BAKER BURROWS, Life Magazine When you're finished with that photo essay you should pretty much know what that story is all about without even having read a word in a text piece or a caption. There was the "Career Girl," Leonard McCombe’s "Career Girl." People hadn’t seen stories like that, actually published pictures of people’s ordinary lives.

DANIEL CZITROM. Historian: One of the reasons I think that people get hooked on Life is a sense that they are bringing these extraordinary images to any American citizen. Any given American, no matter where he or she lived, no matter what their class was, no matter what they did for a living, they all could essentially share in this experience and that experience of course is defined by still photographs.

JERRY DELLA FEMINA, Advertiser: Life told us about a world that many of us didn’t have. I grew up in the Italian section of Brooklyn. I did not speak English until I went to school. A magazine like Life Magazine which somehow came into this Italian household, I don’t know why, but I guess someone said, I think we should learn how to be Americans, and Life Magazine was this great, great lesson about what the other world, the outside world was all about. You know, it’s so amazing, I can’t remember what I ate this afternoon. I can remember what I saw in Life Magazine.



NARRATION: In a special feature, Life printed snapshots of Marion Chadwick and her father at the beach -- one photograph a year, for over a quarter of a century.

Title: THE FSA


NARRATOR: The Great Depression. In Washington, Roosevelt attempted to deal with the economic crisis proposing a multitude of new government programs. He knew he would need the support of Congress and the general public.

As part of the Farm Security Administration, the government established an organization unique in peace time, a propaganda agency that would use the power of photographs to sell Roosevelts programs. Roy Stryker, an economist from Columbia University was chosen to run this new agency.

JOHN MORRIS, Author/Picture Editor: Roy Stryker never took a picture in his life. But he was a great talent scout and he brought together a team of photographers, some of whom had become legends in the history of photography, like Dorthea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee, and Walker Evans. Stryker was dedicated to telling the story of America the way it was as he put it, "our job was to introduce America to Americans."


JACK DELANO, : I think the photographs that I did for Farm Security and what we all did I think is an expression of our feeling that we were living in a great country but that the country was in great trouble, and also that the people who were most troubled in those times were also the people who were part of its greatness.

EDWIN ROSSKAM: It was a politically naive period, and all of us who went to Washington at that time, had some crazy idea that what we could do could alter the course of history.

DR. NAOMI ROSENBLUM, Author : I’ve read any number of times about how there was dust in the food and dust on the table and dust in the bed and in the clothes, but until you actually see a good photograph such as Arthur Rothstein’s of the people walking from the house to the dust cellar, you don’t get a sense of the immensity of the occurrence. Somehow the photograph sums this all up in a different way, you get a sense of it that’s sort of visceral instead of just intellectual.

NARRATOR: Over six years, FSA photographers took a quarter of a million photographs. They were made available free of charge and were widely used in newspapers, magazines, exhibits and books. At the time, the pictures helped sell Roosevelt’s programs, but for later generations they have become a national treasure. Frozen in this archive is a critical moment of American history. Today, when we think of the Depression, we see these faces, the suffering and the sadness as well as their implicit message -- as bad as things were, America would endure...



NARRATION: In the early 1940s a young photographer, Gordon Parks, got a call to come to Washington, With the success of the FSA, its role was being expanded. Roy Stryker believed that photographs could be used to combat racial discrimination. He began by showing Parks how things really worked on the streets of the nation's capital.

GORDON PARKS, Photographer/Writer: So Roy Stryker asked me a few questions and said, what are you really know about the city? And I told him, and he said, hmmm, he said well I’m going to give you an assignment. Your first assignment. Put your camera on a shelf. I want you to go to Julius Garfinkle’s store, buy yourself a top coat. There’s a restaurant directly across the street. And then there’s a motion picture house down in the same block. So to make the story short, each one of them gave me short shrift. I didn’t get a coat at the department store. When I went to the restaurant, the man said, don’t you know Negroes have to eat on the other side in the back? You can’t come in this side. You have to get your food in to the back. And, of course, I didn’t even get in the movie house. That’s the way it was. So I was astounded. And I went back and Roy saw me walk in and he smiled. And he said, well how did it go? And I says, well I think you know how it went. He said, yeah. What are you going to do about it? I said, I don’t know. What do I do about it? He said, well, what’d you bring your camera down here for? Just like that. I said, oh. So, he left and the only person left in the building was a black woman, a char woman, who was sweeping the floor and mopping. So I introduced myself, she told me her name was Ella Watson, and I asked her if I could photograph her. Photograph me like this? I said yes. I really thought of Grant Wood’s picture American Gothic. I put a broom in one hand, and a mop in the other. And told her to look directly into the camera. Well, that picture has become the best known picture of all of my work. I showed it to Stryker three mornings later. He said, well, you’re getting the idea, but you’re going to get us all fired. Said this is a government agency and that picture is an indictment against America and I realize from the reactions of people that the camera could be a very powerful instrument against discrimination. Against poverty. Against racism...


TITLE: "I have thought about the land...observing its

precarious status quo: beautiful yet on the verge of


- Ansel Adams


MERRY FORESTA, National Museum of American Art: He was filled with this idea of photography of natural spaces being very much linked with an American vision. The landscape in America has a great history and legacy to it. It was our cathedrals. It was our castles. In response to a European idea of what art should be about, something spiritual, something lofty, something historical, our history was in our waterfalls and our mountains and our great rivers.

JOHN SZARKOWSKI, The Museum of Modern Art (Emeritus): People, I think, misunderstand Adams because he photographed mountains and peaks, so people think it’s about geography or geology. But he really was photographing the weather. He made pictures unlike anybody else had made, or for that matter has made.

When Adams was doing his best work everyone thought it was irrelevant. Beautiful pictures of little pristine little lakes in the high Sierras. What did that mean during the Great Depression, during the Second War. It really seemed like escapism then. Later after the world became concerned with ecological issues, and when it began to seem to people that the preservation of our place was as important, as central an issue as any, then Adams began to seem very relevant, and very prophetic.



NARRATION: In the early 1940s, the photograph had completed its conquest of America. After the success of LIFE, the news stands were overflowing with picture magazines. Wire services were now sending pictures instantly around the world not only on telephones lines but via radio waves. 35 millimeter cameras and fast lenses made it possible to capture life in action. With these technical innovations, photography had immense power to shape public opinion. All this potential came together on December 7, 1941.

[NEWS CLIP Pearl Harbor]

NARRATION: The war would be a fought on many fronts -- an astounding global story which both the military and the press were determined to record in pictures. LIFE Magazine and former FSA photographers were rushed to the front lines. It soon became a world-wide tragedy of unimaginable proportions, but ironically, World War II was a photographer’s dream.

NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Military cameramen moved in as always with the troops to bring home the pictured facts, the hell of jungle warfare, the dawn of landing day on some corral beach.



NARRATION: "Public opinion wins wars," wrote General Eisenhower.

FILM NARRATOR: Thus, at last, the double face of Nippon showed itself in its true...

NARRATION: To win World War II it wasn’t enough to tell the American public what they were fighting for, it was necessary to drive home what they were fighting against. The Japanese, with their unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor, were singled out as objects of particular hatred.

RM: Well, the Japanese soon became Japs, not just in LIFE but in the press in general. The worst, the most tragic thing that happened was the evacuation of what eventually became about 100,000 Japanese-American residents of the west coast to the interior. There was racism, both conscious and unconscious in the treatment of the Japanese.

PAUL FUSSELL, Author: If you can understand that then you can understand the dimension of the war that seldom surfaces today, that kind of intense hatred that was necessary to fight it.

NARRATOR: To modern eyes, of all the many pictures coming out of World War II, this is one of the strangest and the most telling.

Life Magazine printed it as their ‘Picture of the Week’ with the following caption: "When he said goodbye to Natalie Nickerson, her handsome Navy lieutenant promised her -- a Jap."

PAUL FUSSELL, Author: She was his girlfriend, apparently, and a very respectable girl who went to church and led her high school class and that sort of thing. And here she was present at this bizarre and gruesome exhibit of this Japanese soldier’s skull well that sort of thing was commonplace. It became a real service problem as what to do with these cleansed bones of former Japanese soldiers as gifts and souvenirs. My point is, this never happened with the German corpses. They were never boiled down to get their bones to send home. Never! Germans were white people. And I think this ought to be talked about in exactly those terms, because it’s been forgotten. We didn’t lock up people with German names. We locked up people with Japanese names, so although they were American citizens, they were very close to, it seemed, to what used to be called niggers in this country, and that should never be forgotten either, and the fact that they were not quite suggested a very special brand of alien offensiveness, and consequently to take the flesh off their dead bones and then mail those bones home as nice souvenirs for the people in Iowa and so on, didn’t bother people at all. They thought it quite appropriate. You can learn a lot about Americans in the Second World War from that one photograph I would say.

Title: 2 - THE PIN-UP

NARRATOR: World War II produced many famous photographs, but one of the most famous was not of guns or tanks, but of a young woman’s back.

Her name was Betty Grable, and at the height of the war, 50,000 servicemen a month were asking for this picture. 20th Century Fox made a movie to capitalize on the fame of the photograph. They called it Pin-Up Girl.


MAN: Laurie.

BETTY: Oh, hello. Here’s the last one. That’s all fellows.


NARRATOR: With high heels, her bathing suit, and her big ‘come hither’ smile, Betty Grable's photograph was everywhere. A fighter plane was named "Pin-Up Girl" and had her picture painted on its fuselage. She billed herself as the daughter of a truck driver and took her role as icon seriously. "I’ve got to be an enlisted man’s girl," she said. "Just like this has got to be an enlisted man’s war."

GRABLE SINGING: 'Do I love my pin-up girl...'

NARRATION: The war created a fad for pin-ups of all kinds. On barrack walls, in decals, in soldier’s wallets. Life Magazine published a set of pictures of beautiful women and then conducted a poll among the troops. "Which one of these girls would you most like to have pneumonia with?" "The girl you’d most like to bail out with?" "The girl you’d most like to take out for a chicken dinner?" An army publication put it simply. "We’re not only fighting for the four freedoms, we’re fighting for the priceless privilege of making love to American women."

Title: 3 D-DAY


NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: This is the day for which free people long have waited. This is D-Day.

NARRATOR: For years it had been in the planning. The return of allied forces to France. The ultimate crushing of Germany and the end of the war in Europe. Every magazine and newspaper editor in the country knew that D-Day would be their biggest story. Life Magazine sent John Morris to London in late 1943. His instructions were simple: get us the first pictures of the invasion.

JM: By June 1944, I had a team of six war correspondent photographers and my job was to get them assigned to various spots for the great story of the invasion, which involved a million men.

NARRATOR: To cover the actual landing, Morris sent Robert Capa. Capa had photographed the Spanish Civil War, the desert battle across North Africa and the invasion of Italy. If anyone could capture the events of D-Day on film, it would be Robert Capa.


JM: When Capa’s film came in, we were desperate because we had to make a final deadline of nine AM Thursday morning for shipment to Life. Up until that moment the whole world didn’t know what D-Day actually looked like. So we were really pressed for time. Capa’s film came in, it came to me in the early evening with a note from him saying, 'John, the action is all in these four rolls of 35-millimeter film.' And I ordered the darkroom to rush processing as fast as possible. I said, give me contact prints, I needed to edit. And the young lad in the darkroom put the film in the drying cabinet and closed the doors and there was too much heat. And because we were in such a hurry, the films ruined. And on three rolls of the four there was no image discernible at all, but on the fourth roll, fortunately, I found 11 frames that could be printed. And those are the pictures that will live forever.

Title: 4 - IWO JIMA


SOLDIER: There she goes.

HAL BUELL, Former Photo Editor, AP: One of the great photo icons of all time, possibly the greatest, is a picture that Joe Rosenthal made of the flag raising on Iwo Jima on top of Mt. Suribachi.

It had been a bloody, bloody course, and then along comes this picture that says victory. The night it was made, it was flown to Guam and the next day was transmitted to the U.S. So it was in the U.S. within a day and a half of the time it was made, and transmitted to newspapers and the picture was played on the front pages everywhere. And it became an instant icon.

PAUL FUSSELL, Author: That photograph is especially interesting I think because it could be said to mark the impact of the New Deal upon the way we understood the war. We understood the war as an almost magical force for uniting people in this country, and for effacing differences and that is what that photograph taken just as a piece of symbolism is about

NARRATION: One picture. And in that brief moment, Rosenthal’s camera seemed to capture the soul of a nation.

Title: 5 - EVIDENCE

HAL BUELL, Former Photo Editor, AP: There are certain pictures that change our lives. Now, I don’t mean pictures of events that change our lives, but I mean pictures themselves that change our lives. And Auschwitz and other concentration camp photos are in that category.

NARRATOR: People had read descriptions of the concentration camps, but they seemed exaggerated -- unbelievable. Eyewitnesses had been met with suspicion. The possibility that a whole people had been exterminated was unthinkable, and then, these images -- visual proof of the enormity of the Nazi crimes.

Even Margaret Bourke-White, the experienced combat photographer, could not fathom what she was seeing: "Using the camera was almost a relief," she wrote, "it interposed a slight barrier between myself and the white horror in front of me. I kept telling myself that I’d believe it when I had a chance to look at my own photographs. But later, when I developed the negatives, I could not bring myself to look at the films."

Like the holocaust they documented, the photographs mark a turning point in human consciousness. The world would never be the same.



NARRATOR: On January 24th, 1955 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented an exhibition called "The Family of Man." Organized by photographer Edward Steichen, it was a fusion of carefully selected photographs and captions, all to support the concept -- mankind is one. It included five hundred photographs, from sixty-eight countries around the world. It featured groups of related pictures that moved the viewer from images of lovers meeting, to pictures of marriage, to birth, and finally to universal concerns of food and shelter.

DR. NAOMI ROSENBLUM, Author: For one thing it came after this terrible war and the aftermath of the war in which societies were really disrupted. It made the point that people everywhere had the same needs and same desires, that families were families wherever they existed, no matter what the people dressed like and what their surroundings looked like. It appealed to people on a just very human level.

NARRATION: Critics attacked the show as simplistic, but for the vast general public, the exhibit was a profound revelation. It toured the country and then the world, bringing many people into museums for the first time in their lives. A book was published based on the exhibit and it brought the pictures to millions more. In all, the "Family of Man" became the most widely seen collection of images in the history of photography.

THOMAS HURWITZ, Cinematographer : I don’t remember when the "Family of Man" came into my consciousness, but it’s effect on me was extraordinary. It was a collection of the single most powerful images that I had ever seen, certainly to that date, and probably ever have seen together. These extraordinary pictures celebrated a humanism saying that all people were alike under the skin, but yet in their differences they express the beauty of what it is to be human. The couple making love. Obviously in the middle of sex. Although all you see are the shoulders, was what I hoped passion would be. The father teaching the son how to hunt in Bechuanaland was something about fatherhood, something about what I wanted to be as a father, but then there were photographs that just to me said things that were so big about the world. I mean the Cartier-Bresson photographs especially the one of the women looking off across the field of stones in Kashmir. The Doisneau picture of the lovers by the Seine. They were icons. They stood for meaning that kept building and building and building. And it told us that the human heart was beautiful. And the human heart was shared by everyone who is human.


JERRY DELLA FEMINA, Advertiser: Years ago, I watched my wife going through the, the New York Times Magazine Section. And she was turning like this, are really fast, really fast. And she finally stopped at what I thought was the worst ad I'd even seen. The headline was just dismal. It said not. The layout was really bad. And, I said, "Why did you stop at that ad?" And she said, "I like that dress. Very nice picture of a dress. I like the dress."


ANNE HOLLANDER, Historian of Dress: I think that our sense of our clothing at all times is essentially pictorial. Groups of people in 1863 caught by the camera show these people looking like bundles of laundry. I think in order to look better in the camera eye this kind of self-contained slim unit has came into existence. You have to really be quite slender to look perfect in the camera. What the camera influences right there the camera is influencing how people wished to look.

MERRY FORESTA, National Museum of American Art: After the way looking through the page of Vogue or Harper's Bazaar, looking at Penn's photographs later at Avedon's photographs, what these photograph did do is create the way we wanted to look. It permeated all aspects of ourselves, certainly ourselves as women in the world.

ANNE HOLLANDER, Historian of Dress: You had desirable people's looks seen through the camera, in those clothes which looked marvelous under the camera eye. You had a sense that there is nothing that the camera cannot make marvelous.

JERRY DELLA FEMINA, Advertiser: Let's say it's a dress. And you put it on the model. And it's still... it's okay. But it's a dress. And then somebody pins it up in the back, and pins it up on the side, and it's still a dress. And then a photographer, an Avedon, takes a photograph. And it's something that everyone wants. It's this beautiful, incredible dress. And then, what happens is, they go to the store. But it never looks like the photograph. Nothing ever really looks like the photograph. And that's the sad part of life.


CARL TOTH, Cranbrook Academy of Art: Setting up the family slide projector is a ritual that has virtually disappeared. But it's one that I recall with great clarity and affection from my childhood.

While my father's sophisticated knowledge of photography made our family somewhat unique, in many other ways we were typical. We loved making photographs of the markers of life. Often these pictures were made on family vacations when we, like millions of other Americans, stuffed the family into the station wagon and headed out onto the open road.

One might have the impression, looking at scores of these pictures that we moved around in a kind of clump, never more than perhaps an arms length apart. I think the pictures represent a kind of tenacity on the part of my parents to maintain a kind of ideal image or ideal appearance of family closeness in spite of whatever battles might have been going on in the back seat of the car two minutes before the photographs were made.

One of the most interesting things that in a sense plays themselves out in these pictures, is the idea of connecting the older mythologies of American culture to what you might think of as the future mythologies of American cultures. Especially with the growing mythology of the ideal family in America in the fifties.




NARRATION: In the boom of the 1950s, Americans were being inundated with images. Although television was becoming America's favorite pastime, photography was still king. Magazines were everywhere, LIFE and LOOK had more readers than ever. The pictures in both the ads and the stories showed a brave new world of suburbs, cake mixes, Polaroid cameras, crinolines, and cars with fins.



MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: Life Magazine and movies and soon television create a photographic world of possibilities that nobody could have dreamed of twenty years earlier. And all of a sudden you start to get, after the war, a different kind of visual universe. That the magazine says it’s reporting on, but it’s creating. It’s helping create it.

BARBARA POLLACK, Artist: At the time, people believed in it so strongly that people getting Life Magazine, looking at pictures of those families would go through -- 'oh you, know maybe we should redecorate our living room like that, or what can we do to look more like this family.'

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: The vision of America, and the vision of the good life that’s presented in magazines like Life and Look is extremely narrow, extremely circumscribed in terms of who's being pictured. It is clearly middle class, it is clearly white, it clearly has a husband and a wife who accept that the man is out in the public world, the wife home, she's a mother she’s taking care the whole domestic sphere -- a very clear, narrow, tightly defined vision what it is to be normal.

BARBARA POLLACK, Artist: We could look back at the ‘50s and say god those ads really distorted and how could people have wanted to feel like the people in those ads, but today we’ll have something like a Calvin Klein ad. All right, now we have the sexy mother who looks beautiful with the children on the beach, which I can tell you had never has happened, and we look at that and we say that’s true. And I want to have a white sweater like that while I’m on the beach with my children, and everything stays white and the waves come up and we all look relaxed together. And nobody’s asking me for lemonade or where the juice pack is.

LUC SANTE, Author: The iconography of the 1950s, the official iconography of course has become the largest cliché of the latter half of the 20th Century that everything really, really domesticated, you know absolutely everything under control, conformity, blah, blah, blah. Things weren’t actually that way out in the streets.

NARRATOR: In a mid 1950s, a new generation of photographers led by Robert Frank, William Klein rejected the perfect lighting and composition of professional picture taking. William Klein, described his excitement in first seeing, not the order, but the chaos of life while looking through his viewfinder. "I rushed out in the street," he said, "and shot away, aiming, not aiming, it didn't matter. I wanted it all in a gluttonous rage."

Gone was the comfortable middle class world -- gone was the neat magazine photo essay with its beginning and middle and end.

LUC SANTE, Author: This photography is about this mass of misconnections and people uncertain of where they’re going, and people colliding and cultures colliding and people not seeing each other. It represents this new development in photography and there’s sort of no turning back from that.

MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: These photographers said, here’s your world, this is your world. This is not the fantasy of it, this is the real world and made pictures that were graphic and iconic and could both tell the truth about what they were seeing and stand for something big.

GAIL BUCKLAND, Photographic Historian: The best photographers showed that in this vast country, huge country, there are many lost souls, that not everybody fits in, and that the one American dream is not a one-size-fits-all.



NARRATION: In August, 1955, a fourteen-year-old boy, visiting Mississippi from Chicago, was accused of whistling at a white woman. He was bludgeoned to death and his body was thrown into a nearby river.

In a South where violent racism was commonplace, Emmett Till’s murder may have gone un-noticed, except for this photograph. Published only in the black press, it showed his young face beaten beyond recognition.

DORIE LADNER, Social Worker: It was awful.

JOYCE LADNER, Brookings Institution: Awful.

DORIE LADNER, Social Worker: It was horrific. He looked like an old man.

DORIE LADNER, Brookings Institution: And I would go to bed every night, frightened to death, nearly frightened to death...

DORIE LADNER, Social Worler: We were scared.

DORIE LADNER, Social Worker: Because we were the same age as he, and we didn’t know whether or not they would come and get us.

JOYCE LADNER, Brookings Institution: And we also saw pictures in the newspapers and especially in the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier, of the assailants...

DORIE LADNER, Social Worker: Laughing.

JOYCE LADNER, Brookings Institution: In the court room laughing.

DORIE LADNER, Social Worker: A picture is worth a thousand words.

JOYCE Ladner, Brookings Institution: They’re seared in your brain.

DORIE LADNER, Social Worker: Yeah, and they remain there, and Emmett Till’s face is still in my mind today. I can see it. It’s there. And it will never leave.

JOYCE LADNER, Brookings Institution: I think my generation of black southerners who became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s was the Emmett Till generation, because down to a person, all my friends saw that picture at about the same age as I or a year or two older, and they were enraged and felt powerless at the same time and vowed as I did that one day they were going to get even. They were going to do something about it.



NARRATION: Photography was growing up with the century. In the coming years, it would confront the television age, and soon the digital age.

Every aspect of American life was about to go through profound changes. The camera would be there, to document, to shock, to motivate and to transform...