Tamara Arranz

Editorial Photography & People

© Tamara Arranz

“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

─── by Josh Bright, December 2, 2022

Our 2022 People Photography Award is now open for entries and will be judged by The Guardian’s Head of Photography, Fiona Shields. To celebrate the competition, we’re exploring the subject of People & Photography. It is one that is both broad and multivarious, encompassing almost the full spectrum of photographic styles, and can be dissected in myriad ways.

color street photo of people in New York city, USA by Paul Kessel
“Soho” - New York City, USA © Paul Kessel

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.

color photo of women in india by Shirren Lim
Women carrying water at Khun Meena Pamid Stepwell, Rajasthan, India © Shirren Lim

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.

color photo of a family dipping their months old child in the Holy river Ganges -Varanasi, India by Mohit Khetrapal
“Dip of Irony” - Varanasi, India © Mohit Khetrapal

“In reality, all we photographers photograph is ourselves in the other all the time” – Evelyn Hofer

Medium format color portrait of a black man in Russia by Justin Barton
"Max, 26 Republic of Congo" - From the series "Cold War" © Justin Barton
An elderly woman prepares threads of red paprika on September 19, 2020 in Donja Lokosnica, Serbia
“Serbia’s Red Gold: Pepper” - Donja Lokosnica, Serbia © Vladimir Zivojinovic

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.

Portrait image by of a man and a butterfly in Peru, South America. Photograph by Javier Arcenillas - People & Photography
“AmA” © Javier Arcenillas - Finalist, Color Award, 2020

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.

"Quinceañera" - Havana, Cuba © Claudia Cobianchi
color street photo of Maiko in japanese taxi by Fabrizio Bonifazi
'Maiko in japanese taxi' - Kyoto, Japan © Fabrizio Bonifazi
Street photography in London, England by photographer Olesia Kim
"Londoners" - Nothing Hills carnival, London, UK © Olesia Kim

“There’s nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face”
  – Irvin Kershner

young Waorani girl receiving colorful make up by her grandmother in the ecuadorian amazon- People & Photography
Waorani child - Ecuadorian Amazon © Kristyn Taylor
color Portrait photograph of a young boy by Kovi Konowiecki
Portrait of an Orthodox Jewish family © Kovi Konowiecki

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.

black and white studio portrait of an elderly white woman by Evelyn Bencicova
"Ripe" © Evelyn Bencicova

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