Announcing the winners of Portrait of Humanity 2020

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Three bodies of work and 30 single images have won the third edition of British Journal of Photography’s biggest award — as Portrait of Humanity 2021 opens for entries

View the full list of winners Enter Portrait of Humanity 2021

In a year of ongoing struggle, Portrait of Humanity — a celebration of human strength, intimacy, solidarity, hope — has perhaps never been more potent. With that in mind, 1854 Media and British Journal of Photography are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2020 award: three series and 30 single images capturing all that makes us human at a crucial time in our history.

Selected by a panel of photo editors, directors and curators from leading institutions, the winning work will be exhibited around the world as part of the Portrait of Humanity 2020 Global Tour, opening at Capa Center, Budapest, on 4 September.

“One of the most basic instincts we have as humans is curiosity for one another. A powerful portrait can tell anyone about the similarities we share as people”

István Virágvölgyi, curator at the Capa Center and Portrait of Humanity judge

Series category

Alain Schroeder’s Grandma Divers documents South Korea’s renowned Haenyeo, or “women of the sea” — a nationally-treasured aging collective who freedive off the black shores of Jeju Island in search of ocean delicacies. “With a lifestyle that embodies all the buzzwords of the moment — natural, ecological, sustainable — the Haenyeo of South Korea may be the last modern heroines whose story must be told,” the Belgian photojournalist tells British Journal of Photography.

© Alain Schroeder.

Snezhana von Buedingen’s intimate Meeting Sofie follows a 19-year-old with Down’s Syndrome as she transitions from girl to woman. “I had a chance to experience Sofie’s everyday life,” says the winning photographer, “sharing the highs and lows of her first steps into love. At the time she was in that awkward yet beautiful and thrilling age… when every feeling is extremely intense and love seems to be the main purpose of life.”

The third and final series winner is Jim Naughten, whose project captures the Herero people of Namibia in their tribal clothing — a mixture of traditional dress combined with elements of their European colonisers’. “The Herero people were the victims of what is now widely accepted as the first genocide of the last century,” Naughten says. “For me, the Herero represent the human spirit of survival and defiance in the face of overwhelming, unimaginable hardship and loss.”

© Jim Naughten.

Single image category

Amongst the 30 single image winners due to go on show are fathers and daughters, inmates and inuits, breast cancer survivors and body-positive activists — powerful portraits of quiet lives, capturing universal expressions.

As seen on the cover for the Portrait of Humanity book, Vol. 2 (now available to buy), Eric Demers depicts Greta Thunberg addressing the biggest crowd demonstration in Canadian history. “The fact that this teenage girl was able, in a short year, to mobilize so many people is impressive,” says Demers, “but it also shows the yearning for a certain sense of a global community. For me, the moment captured on stage speaks of hope and strength. It also shows that those elements don’t rise by themselves.”

© Eric Demers.
© Mirja Maria Thiel.

Capturing the searing intimacy between a married couple of 60 years, Mirja Maria Thiel’s winning portrait, too, proves particularly potent in a year of global separation. “Human sexuality, with its endless variations of love, desire and eroticism, is a universal value that is lived, at its best, by mankind all over the world,” says Thiel. “As a winner, I am grateful for the appreciation the award gives to Irene and Günter, who have been so courageous and trusting to share such an intimate moment of their relationship with me.”

Portrait of Humanity 2020’s single image winners also include Obakeng Molepe, Michael Novotny, Michael Snyder, Naomi Goddard, Nicole Osula, Oded Wagenstein, Whitney Hayes, Antoine Veling, Antony Sojka-Metcalfe, Attilio Fiumarella, Brock Elbank, Daniel Loveday, Diana Feil, Edouard Jacquinet, Francesco Merlini, Haley McHaffie, Ivan Ferrer, Jack Lawson, Jeremy Snell, Jon Enoch, Kurt Stallaert, Lauren Hare, Lena Bushart, Marie Hald, Marina Kazakova, Mat Hay, Mauro De Bettio and Meredith Andrews.

© Obakeng Molepe.

“My winning image captures a brother and sister on a long walk in the name of their faith. It states that, in a world where narcissism runs the streets – a world where capitalism leads us to prioritize money and materialism above all else, including humility – there is still hope. We can still see beyond ourselves. We can still believe in something bigger”

Obakeng Molepe, Portrait of Humanity 2020 Winner

© Diana Feil.
© Jeremy Snell.
© Marie Hald.
© Jon Enoch.
© Oded Wagenstein.
© Whitney Hayes.

View the full list of winners Enter Portrait of Humanity 2021

The Portrait of Humanity 2020 Global Tour is on show at Capa Center, Hungary, from 04 September to 11 October 2020. Next stop: Indian Photo Festival, Hyderabad.

Flossie Skelton

Flossie Skelton joined British Journal of Photography in 2019, where she is currently Commissioning Editor across awards, Studio and partner content. She does freelance writing, editing and campaign work across arts, culture and feminism; she has worked with BBC Arts, Belfast Photo Festival and Time’s Up. She is also an illustrator, with artwork published in Marie Claire, ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style and the Guardian.