Book Review: Portrait of Humanity Vol 2
I am mildly obsessed with the photography collections from Hoxton Mini Press. Not only are they well-curated works of art, they always arrive wrapped in beautiful paper embossed with a map of London. One of my small pleasures during lockdown is receiving book post, and opening something so lovingly presented is a real treat.
Aesthetically pleasing packaging aside, the latest collection from this East London indie publisher is a glorious hardback book containing 200 intimate portraits and stories which have been shot by photographers all over the world. It’s a thing of real beauty.
I spent a particularly grey Tuesday morning (when I was feeling anxious and claustrophobic because of the COVID-19 lockdown) reading the stories in Portrait of Humanity Volume 2. I don’t know if it’s because of my heightened emotions, but it was a surprisingly moving experience. During this strange and uncertain time, books have been my means of solace and escape. I believe in the power of the written word, of shared stories and images and, as I leafed through the pages of this beautiful collection, I began to feel a less despondent and a little more hopeful. Sure, the world seems to be something out of a dystopian nightmare, but this book serves as a reminder – however small – that there is beauty out there as well as humanity, courage, creativity and hope. That’s a pretty powerful thing.
I’m also an avid traveller and, faced with possible travel restrictions for the foreseeable future, I’ve missed the ability to get out and explore the world. So the photographs in this collection served as mini-getaways as I was transported to somewhere else, somewhere I could investigate, if just for a short while. It’s tough to pick a favourite image but I loved Noga Sadhu Ritual by Robert Nistri, Irene and Gunter by Mirja Maria Thiel, White Rooster, Blue Wall by Alex Franco and, of course, the front cover image depicting Great Thunberg on stage by Eric Demers.
While most of the images included in this year’s edition were shot pre-coronoavirus (how strange that this is now a turn of phrase), a note from the publisher at the beginning of the text firmly cements this collection as part of the discussion about our ‘new normal’. Martin Usborne, co-founder of Hoxton Mini Press, writes: “There is a resonance here. The stories of shared pain and love and hope…seem to hint at the power of a collective humanity that may, just, take us out of it…maybe this book, in a very small way, is a temporary antidote to our collective troubles.”
Similarly, in the book’s foreword, Marc Hartog, founder and CEO of 1854 Media, mentions his initial concern that curating a photographic exhibition and book could appear “frivolous” during a pandemic, but he “can’t get away from the notion that this serves as an important and timely reminder that while we are literally, physically, apart, we have a shared humanity”.
The book also reminds us that we are still living during a time of great political and environmental turmoil and the 200 images in this book highlight the urgency of these issues.
Portrait of Humanity Volume 2 is more than just a collection of beautiful snaps and I’d urge anyone feeling a little dejected, shaken or even galvanised by recent events to buy a copy. If an image is worth a thousand words, then this book says everything.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
Portrait of Humanity is the annual award organised by 1854 Media, and the accompanying book is published by Hoxton Mini Press and available to buy now.
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