2020 was defined by global struggle, crisis and resilience. In the wake of last year, global photography award Portrait of Humanity returns with a vast and moving exploration of what it means to be human. The prize was conceived by 1854 and British Journal of Photography to show that “across oceans and borders, there is more that unites us than sets as apart.” At this moment in history, these messages of hope, courage and connection are more important than ever.
One such example is featured above. Paolo Barretta’s poignant portrait of masked lovers is one of 30 winning images, capturing the artist’s best friend and boyfriend after three months of distance due to quarantine. “There are so many reasons why I consider this picture so important to me,” the photographer says. “It’s not just portraying someone kissing. This is the story of people who fight, people who resist, people who stay together against this crazy world.”
Other featured names include Michelle Neeling (shown above), whose black-and-white photography positions 2020-2021 as a kind of surreal dream. A group of people huddle together, appearing to be in slumber, waves gently lapping at the shore. “How long would we need to sleep in order to wake up to a new and better world?” the artist asks. “Will this period of farcical and increasingly terrifying world politics come to an end any time soon? Is it still possible to reverse the existential threat of climate change and rising sea levels, and if so, how long will it take?”
There are also awards for three bodies of work. Prize-winners include Hyoyeon Kim, who grew up with a grandmother who lost her whole family to the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, 1945. Since 2018, she has been tracking down generations of victims in South Korea and Japan. The results are chronicled in Abnormal Sense: 感覺異常 (below left). “Korea has the second largest number of victims of atomic bombings in the world,” the photographer explains. “But their existence has so far been hidden by diplomatic and social circumstances. What I’ve clearly learned during my work is that the event – which occurred on one day, 75 years ago, across the sea – still has an effect.”
Elsewhere, Edgar Martins’ winning series What Photography and Incarceration Have in Common With an Empty Vase (above right) was developed from a collaboration with HM Prison Birmingham (UK). “By giving a voice to inmates and their families and addressing prison as a set of social relations rather than a mere physical space, my work tried to rethink and counter the sort of imagery normally associated with incarceration, usually revolving around themes of violence, drugs, criminality and race.” Across 3 years, the body of work scrutinised how we deal with the absence of a loved one due to enforced separation.
In the single image category, Carloman Macidiano Céspedes Riojas captures Wells (above), a gay immigrant in Buenos Aires. It’s part of a wider project exploring the LGBTQ immigrant community in Argentina’s capital. As a member himself, he notes: “Although we left our countries in search of a better future, I have found that, for several immigrants, the main reason was to find a sense of freedom not available at home… [My portrait] is about saying ‘here I am’; I am real, I exist. Because the image not only talks about Wells, but it talks about me… My experiences, my feelings and all that makes us human.”
See the full gallery online here.
1. © Paolo Barretta, Portrait of Humanity 2021 Single Image Winner.
2. © Michelle Neeling, Portrait of Humanity 2021 Single Image Winner.
3. © Hyoyeon Kim, Abnormal Sense
4. © Edgar Martins, stop givin’ me yon funny look.
5. © Carloman Macidiano Céspedes Riojas, Portrait of Humanity 2021, Single Image Winner.