Edward Steichen’s monumental 1955 exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, The Family of Man, was in essence about inclusivity. The 503 photographs by 273 prominent and unknown artists included in the show were curated from two million images, depicting life at its various moments to create a bigger picture of the human experience.
“That exhibit was a seminal work in the history of the medium,” says Myles Little, a TIME associate photo editor and the curator of a new traveling exhibition, One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality. “It would be impossible for me to do something equal to it.”
Still, Steichen’s show became a stepping-stone for Little’s exhibit, which takes a stab at exposing the ecosystem of the rich through a more exclusive photographic journey. “I studied Family of Man, and wrote down what I saw as its themes: family, religion, work, and so on. Then I found images that speak to those themes, but in the world of privilege,” says Little.
Born in Ireland and raised in Charleston, S.C., Little’s experience working and living in New York City has inevitably exposed him to the jarring gap between the rich and the poor. “I catch little glimpses of both appalling poverty and breathtaking wealth,” he says. “Meanwhile, I see a lot of regular people in America celebrating the wealthy and referring to celebrities by their first names—as if they are friends. We over-identify with this group of people we don’t know and with whom we do not share common interests.”
After an inspiring conversation with Mexican-American curator Daniel Brena, Little spent two years curating the show, sifting through images online such as the archives of Magnum Photos, VII Photo and NOOR. To achieve a “visual cohesiveness” and “mirror the luxurious spirit of the show”, he eventually narrowed his 2,000-image selection down to 30 well-crafted medium format color photographs.
Some of them so blatantly point out the stark contrast of inequality, such as Juliana Sohn’s photograph of a gray-haired, legless man kneeling on the floor, shining a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some are more ambiguous, such as Jesse Chehak’s image of the High Line Park, built partially thanks to the contributions of wealthy New York patrons, which inadvertently spurred real estate development and brought tremendous value spike to the neighborhood that forced many to leave.
The exhibition goes beyond the boundaries of America as the Promised Land, examining how inequality and globalization have helped cripple developing countries. In Tanzania, as gold emerged as the country’s most valuable export, David Chancellor shows the image of an armed soldier guarding the North Mara mine from villagers living in the country’s most impoverished region. “The idea behind the project is to shine a light on an incredibly powerful, but often invisible or misunderstood, segment of the population,” says Little .
Introduced by Noble Prize-winning economist, inequality expert, Joseph Stiglitz, and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author, Geoff Dyer, the exhibition will be traveling to China, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Wales, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, beginning in September. Little is also raising funds on Kickstarter to publish the photographs with German publisher Hatje Cantz.
Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME Magazine. One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality is a traveling exhibition and book project.
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