Civilization The Way We Live Now

William A. Ewing, Holly Roussell

In Civilization, a top curator offers an unprecedented look at contemporary photographs that track the visual threads of humankind’s frenetic, collective life across the globe. 

We hurtle together into the future at ever-increasing speed—or so it seems to the collective psyche. Perpetually evolving, morphing, building and demolishing, rethinking, reframing and reshaping the world around and ahead—and the people within it—an emerging, planetary-wide Civilization is our grand, global, collective endeavor. Never before in human history have so many people been so interconnected, and so interdependent.

With close to 500 images, many previously unpublished, this landmark publication takes stock of the material and spiritual cultures that make up "civilization." Ranging from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from our great collective achievements to our ruinous collective failings, Civilization: The Way We Live Now explores the complexity of contemporary civilization through the rich, nuanced language of photography.

Featuring images by some 140 photographers—from Reiner Riedler’s families at leisure parks, Raimond Wouda’s high schools, Wang Qingsong’s Work, Work, Work and Cindy Sherman’s Society Portraits, to Lauren Greenfield’s displays of ostentatious wealth, Edward Burtynsky’s oil fields, Pablo Lopez Luz’s views on a sprawling contemporary megapolis, Thomas Struth’s images of high technology, Xing Danwen’s electronic wastelands and Taryn Simon’s Contraband, Civilization draws together the threads of humankind’s ever-changing, frenetic, collective life across the globe.

Visually epic, Civilization contains eight thematic chapters, each featuring powerful imagery and accompanied by provocative essays, quotes, and concise statements by the artists themselves.


A captivating visual chronicle of contemporary life across the globe that features images by today's top photographers… Civilization presents a mosaic of moods, textures and techniques… Capturing the multiplicity of lived experience in an era of accelerated change, this provocative collection is a classic of its kind.

— BookPage

Bracing, intelligent, and important.

— Photograph Magazine


William A. Ewing


William A. Ewing has been an author, lecturer, curator of photography and museum director for more than forty years. His many publications on photography include Landmark, Civilization (with Holly Roussell), Flora Photographica (with Danaé Panchaud), and Edward Burtynsky.

Holly Roussell


Holly Roussell is a curator and art historian specializing in photography and contemporary art from Asia. Currently a curator at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, her previous books include Civilization: The Way We Live Now, coauthored with William A. Ewing.