This year’s Portrait of Humanity volume shows o the resilience of the human spirit. Amy Davies explains more
Now in its third volume, the annual Portrait of Humanity collection is perhaps the most poignant set yet. With Covid obviously being a huge influencing factor on the themes found within, there’s also been plenty of massive social events and shifts in ways of thinking during the past year or so.
Featuring over 200 images that were captured in more than 50 countries, the portraits remind us that even though we have faced over 12 months of difficult isolation and separation, through it all, humanity’s desire to connect, rebuild and keep going still survives.
Portrait of Humanity is a collaboration between 1854 (publisher of the British Journal of Photography) together with Magnum Photos. It evolved from the already popular and impressive Portrait of Britain. One of the founders of the Portrait of Humanity photography awards explains, ‘Portrait of Humanity shows how our differences unite us on a global scale – celebrating all that makes us human at a tumultuous time in our history.
‘The reason for creating both awards [Portrait of Humanity award and Portrait of Britain photography award] lies in the importance of human connection through portrait photography, and their power to reveal a window into another’s life and experience. This is evident from the selection of images you see in the collection.
‘Each portrait documents an entirely different life, from tales of love in Lidia Sharapova’s image, and realisations of our mortality through Hannah Maule-Ffinch’s moving portrait, to powerful images of protest in Virginia Hine’s work. Portrait photography helps us to understand others around us, and to bring the global community closer together.’
You might expect the judges of the competition to be looking for something in particular, or have a theme to focus on as each year comes around. Apparently, nothing could be further from the truth. ‘We want to encourage a natural and diverse response to the world within a certain period of time. The eclectic selection which forms the book and the exhibition reflects the vast mosaic of human experiences from around the world, each captured by a photographer’s unique style.’
It might also seem obvious that different countries would have unique identifying themes running throughout – but evidently that is also not the case. ‘It’s interesting to note that there is no discerning style from each geographic location. Although each artist has led separate lives, it goes to show how inspired we are by individuals from all over the world. In many ways the pandemic has helped shape
this, as we turned to online international communities for inspiration and reflection.’
Diversity across the judging panel is incredibly important for 1854. That also includes diversity across professions, with representatives from multiple sectors within the industry. Previous judges have included Fiona Shields, head of photography at The Guardian, Magnum photographers Alessandra Sanguinetti and Newsha Tavakolian, and Mallory Benedict, photo editor at National Geographic. Those who enter the competition should feel as though their work is being seen by some of the most important and most influential people working in photography today.
Although Covid is obviously going to be the overwhelming theme of any such contemporary volume – indeed, the cover shows a couple embracing while wearing the now-familiar sight of face masks – it was also important to show other events. Some of those may have happened regardless, while others have continued through disruption and with differences despite what was going on.
1854’s representative continues, ‘Although Covid-19 has been a formative part of the last 18 months, we were also interested in finding the glimmers of normalcy that resided in local communities, uncovering those narratives that document all experiences during the past year.
‘Images like Rhombie Sandoval’s portrait of Mohammed in Morocco show how normal life continued despite the chaos that the pandemic brought. This being said, it was also interesting to show how “normal” events of life were transformed, such as Davide Bertuccio’s portrait of the couple formalising their union. Once everyday and traditional scenes were, and continue to be, disrupted, but still maintain their familiarity.’
Although always a fascinating collection, this year’s Portrait of Humanity perhaps strikes a louder chord than usual. The portraits found within are shown around the world at a number of key locations, including Photo 2021 in Australia, the Belfast Photo Festival which took place in June and it will travel to the Indian Photo Festival later this year. That means that millions of people will see these images as it makes its way around the globe.
That also means it’s a very appealing prospect to enter your own work, and those with a penchant for portrait photography should already be considering entering next year’s contest, which is now open for pre-registration.
It’s clear that the competition judges don’t have a set definition of what makes a good portrait, but it’s safe to say that anything with heart and soul will likely do well. ‘Submit work that has an emotional connection to you. Whether that’s a fleeting street portrait, a moment suspended, or part of an ongoing project. The judges are looking for work that shows humanity, individuality and the strength of our global community.’
Worth noting also is the fact that any format of photography is permitted – whether film or digital, and from any device, including smartphones.