I could hear them as I walked down a staircase toward the exhibit hall. A multigenerational family carried on as if they were at home, keyed up after Sunday dinner. So much for noiselessness, but they were likable and the gallery space had central air.
The room was devoted to a photojournalism project on civil-rights-era urban poverty, spotlighting a married couple who had 8 of their 10 children living with them in an Upper Manhattan tenement. Many of the photos ran in a 1968 issue of Life magazine, every image slayed me, and I wondered where everyone was today.
Now a few of the talkative visitors were taking pictures. One was crying.
“If she was in the midst of a struggle, how come her curls were poppin’?” a teenager asked.
“Because she was an unlicensed beautician.”
These visitors were younger generations of the family featured on the walls. I thought two of the older relatives in the room might have been kids in the photos, but now that I’m obsessed with their story, I just Google-read that only one of the photographed kids made it past the age of 30 – and this longest-living offspring died at 48, 5 months ago, 3 days after the exhibit opened.
When I was on my way out, most of the clan posed for a picture taken by another not-tacky-at-all visitor who must have overheard who they were. The one who’d been crying said this family’s second generation “has done just fine.” It was nice to have that confirmed, but I’d suspected as much midway through my first lap around, when I really got a sense of this team’s spirit.