The British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Humanity is an annual competition to exhibit photographs that celebrate the beauty and diversity of human life, to remind us that there is more which unites us than sets us apart from one another.
This year, we not only face deep political divisions in the world’s most powerful nations, but a global pandemic which has forced us all further apart physically and socially, with little indication of change. In such times, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that human beings live in an astonishing range of circumstances, with different cultures, traditions and beliefs—and yet, in many ways we are all so very similar to one another. Every human has the capacity to feel the same emotions, and even the most complex desires are driven by the same few universal values: curiosity, connection, personal growth.
The view of Earth from space is renowned for its ability to provide an alternative sense of scale. To quote the great scientist and educator Carl Sagan,
That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
Displaying the Portrait of Humanity in space is a beautiful way to highlight how close we really are to one another, as well as the fact that in these tumultuous times, we can only progress through cooperation. Wearing a mask, socially distancing, putting hobbies on hold, all for the collective good and to protect the most vulnerable in our society, is a truly noble goal. We’re proud to share this message through the Portrait of Humanity exhibition.
A forever and a day space gallery
When the Voyager probes were launched to travel into deep space, they carried records and photographs showing the Earth and its inhabitants—assembled, in fact, by the aforementioned Carl Sagan. This project continues that work, by broadcasting the images out into space for anyone to receive. The images contained in this collection were converted into a binary signal. At the flight’s peak, this message was broadcast on a wide bandwidth of frequencies, straight up out of our solar system and into the depths of space. A message to the stars. Who knows we might even get a response one day…