The Image Of The Century

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No single image can sum up all this, but I am drawn to Alex Henderson’s carefully posed 1951 descriptive photograph of the Du Pont worker Steve Czekalinski with his wife and two boys. They are framed amid a cornucopia of good food, the 669 bottles of milk, 578 pounds of meat, 131 dozen fresh eggs, 440 pounds of fresh fruit, the coffee, cereal, flour, and so on that the typical American family enjoyed in the booming mid-fifties. It’s a materialistic and commercial image, and some will object to that, but the pursuit of plenty has been an American preoccupation—and the business of America is business, is it not? I admit I hesitated long before nominating the Czekalinski, but it also has something of the American character—it is an honest, unpretentious boast—and it suggests the central story of America in the twentieth century. Here is a man of Polish descent standing proudly and happily with his family, enjoying a prosperity never before known in the history of the world. A photograph that hints at a fulfillment of the American dream is not a bad way of marking the end of the millennium.