“If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.” – Eve Arnold
People & Photography is a subject that is both broad and multivarious, encompassing almost the full spectrum of photographic styles, and can be dissected in myriad ways.
In 1838 Louis Daguerre made history when, utilizing the eponymous Daguerreotype method (which he created three years earlier) he captured Paris’ Boulevard Du Temple, and, unwittingly, the barely distinguishable shape of a solitary figure. This image is widely accepted as the first to contain a human, thus marking a pivotal moment in photographic history, opening up a world of possibilities for photographers thenceforth, and transforming the medium forever.
The relationship between photography and people is both symbiotic and deeply intriguing; one that is constantly evolving, and in the process, revealing profound truths concerning humanity. It is, therefore, in our view, a felicitous theme for one of our monthly competitions: the People Photography Award (2021 edition open for entries until October 31), where we invite practitioners working across a broad spectrum of styles and genres to showcase their most compelling depictions of others.
Through Robert Capa’s striking portrayals of war, along with the depression-era work of Farm Security Administration photographers (most notably, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans) and Robert Frank’s penetrative depictions of American society, the fields of documentary photography and photojournalism have been shaped by images of people.
“In reality, all we photographers photograph is ourselves in the other all the time” – Evelyn Hofer
Today, this same humanistic sensibility underpins the work of many visual storytellers, whose practice is characterized by a desire to communicate the stories of the voiceless; document fading traditions or emerging subcultures or, articulate the human tales behind the foremost issues of our time.
Likewise, ‘Street Photography’ is a genre defined by candid images of people; molded by post-war practitioners who masterfully immortalized moments of quotidian life in cities such as Paris, London, and, most notably, New York City. Their images, and indeed, those captured by their predecessors, are revelations about society, portraying humor, joy, melancholy, and love, key composites of the human condition.
“There’s nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face” – Irvin Kershner
When contemplating this subject, however, the style that immediately springs to mind is, of course, portraiture. From depictions of iconic figures or fashion models to sociological or ethnographic portraits, it is a style that transcends genres; one with a long and storied history almost as old as the medium itself.
For generations, great purveyors of this format have sought to capture the personality of their subjects; impart their complexities and particularities; transcribe their very essence in a single frame.
But why is photography so concerned with people? What can our musings on this subject disclose? Oscar Wilde once said that “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter”.
The same principle can be applied to photography: for perhaps all great photographs of people are in fact, to some extent, an impression of the artists themselves, a reflexive visual soliloquy that expresses their character, spirit, and humanity.
NB: The 2022 People Photography Award is open for entries until December 31, 2022. Photographers can participate here.
All images © their respective owners