The more I delved into Vardi Kahana’s “One Family,” the more I was reminded of my formative exhibition of photography, “The Family of Man.” Organized in 1955 by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, it was curated by photographer Edward Steichen, and featured a comprehensive book with a prologue by poet Carl Sandburg. The exhibition traveled throughout the world for many years, and even reached the Tel Aviv Museum in 1957.
It is intriguing to observe early family photographs by Diane and Allan Arbus, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Robert Capa (alongside the unforgettable portraits by Ben Shahn and Dorothea Lange) in the exhibition catalogue. As a motto for these photographic clusters Sandberg chose a verse from the book of Genesis, “Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (2: 23), which he juxtaposed with a visionary quotation from a Sioux Indian: “With all beings and all things we shall be as relatives.” Not every photograph by itself, not every family and its individual evolutions, but – rather – the entire collection as a single whole, a totality; the genetic chain that ties together all those different, diverse groups into some common denominator, which leads us, after all and despite everything, to the constant, originary and ever-so-enchanting entity called “The Family of Man.”
Fleetingly it appears as though Vardi Kahana resigns herself and no longer strives for that gradually vanishing common denominator to which each of the photographed groups belongs. The near-obsessive need to follow the genealogical, cultural, social and political bifurcations continually seems to leave her no time to linger on them, and the lens hops from one cluster to another, from one hybridization to the next, as if they were all equal in value or, possibly, made valueless by the same twinkling gaze. From the burning Europe of the Holocaust – the great womb where this family was conceived, throughout all their incarnations and permutations, wherefrom they scattered upon the face of the earth.
The way in which Kahana positions the four generations of her family on which she focuses her lens in this exhibition, radically exemplifies, perhaps, post-modernism’s “waning” effect. Her quasi-biography becomes a type of outward illustration of sensations and affinities that the artist refuses to decipher. In a sense, this set of photographs introduces yet another panoramic view of the death of the author and the subject on the altar of deconstruction.