Portrait of Humanity opens at Belfast Exposed

© Curtis Hughes
The Portrait of Humanity exhibition has been printed by RUSH Digital Printing

The defiant gaze of a leader. The bonds of girlhood friendship. A tender embrace between father and son. These are among the touching moments that make up Portrait of Humanity Vol.5, opening today at Belfast Exposed

When we reflect on a year gone by, we tend to think in macro terms: Ukraine’s ongoing resistance to Russian invasion, Iran’s incendiary fight for women’s liberation and Britain in economic and political turmoil will rightly come to define our recent history. But amongst (and within) such mighty junctures is a patchwork of individual lives – the small moments that make up a day and the universal expressions that make us human. 

The defiant gaze of a leader. The bonds of girlhood friendship. A tender embrace between father and son. These are just some of  the interactions that make up Portrait of Humanity 2023, the latest edition of British Journal of Photography’s international photography award, now exhibiting at Belfast Exposed. On show at Northern Ireland’s leading photography centre are three winning series and 30 single images that capture many facets of modern life from across the globe: Romania to Brazil, India to the Ivory Coast – portraits of joy, protest, solemnity and solidarity. 

© Fernanda Liberti
© Francesco Zinno

“Portrait of Humanity is  an opportunity to see the very best of portrait photography in the flesh,” says Deirdre Robb, creative director of Belfast Exposed.. “[The work] showcases an extraordinary range of subject matter set against the background of a tumultuous and changing world, united by the common thread of the human experience.” The exhibition is part of Belfast’s Late Night Art initiative, where a number of the city’s art spaces remain open after hours on the first Thursday of every month. 

Amongst the Portrait of Humanity Vol.5 series winners  are Tatenda Chidora’s conceptual portrait of a pandemic-stricken society; Lucia Jost’s reflection on womanhood in Berlin, and Fernanda Liberti’s ode to the sovereignty of Brazil’s Indigenous Tupinambá community. After having their culture decimated by European colonisation, the Tupinambá people – described by Liberti as “the true essence of the Brazilian people” – have recently claimed back legitimacy and land in their native country. “Finally their cosmovision can breathe freely and their voices are no longer diminished,but are now echoing in the most important rooms in the world,” says Liberti, whose soft yet vivid images capture the richness of their culture. 

The Brazilian photographer hopes audiences will take away an important truth from her contribution to the exhibition: “That in order for us to save our planet from human destruction, we must celebrate and learn from Indigenous peoples.”

© Lucia Jost

The climate is under a huge crisis here, photography is a powerful tool to illustrate these realities

-Supratim Bhattacharjee – Portrait of Humanity vol. 5 winner

Among the single images on show are Nepalese twins Ganga and Jamuna – shot by Anusha Thulung Rai – determined to finish school despite the socioeconomic factors that hold their community back. Meanwhile, Mahdiyeh Afshar Bakeshloo pays tribute to the women of Iran, and Supratim Bhattacharjee’s captures a young girl in the Indian Sundarbans whose tea shop has been destroyed by a cyclone

The climate is under a huge crisis here,” says Bhattacharjee of the area forming the lower part of India’s Ganges Delta river. “Children are the ones who suffer the most. Cyclones and tidal floods cause immense damage to their kaccha houses; they are often rendered homeless.” Through his work, the photographer aims to sound the alarm on global warming’s impacts –  particularly on the world’s most vulnerable communities. “Photography is a powerful tool to illustrate these realities,” he says. “Consequently, [I hope] active control measures will be taken by the government.”

© Anusha Rai
© Tom Marshak

Alongside this year’s Portrait of Humanity exhibition, Belfast Exposed also presents Portrait of Belfast –  a vast photographic project comprising 300 black-and-white portraits of the city’s community. Sourced via open call, the images explore some of the social, political and cultural themes at the heart of Belfast’s identity; one that is shaped though not defined by its past. 

With Portrait of Humanity, photography helps us to remember just how vast and complex a thing humanity is. Sweeping statements and sentimentality will never solve conflicts, nor act as substitutes for tangible action. But as this year’s exhibition opens at Belfast Exposed, we are once again reminded that – while across oceans and borders, there may be much that makes us all different – there’s a lot that unites, too.

Portrait of Humanity is at Belfast Exposed until the 16th September

Printing kindly supported by

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.