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Photography and Humanism

CC BY 2.0

CC BY 2.0

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated, according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it.[1] Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of a "human nature" (sometimes contrasted with antihumanism).

In modern times, humanist movements are typically aligned with secularism and with non-theistic religions.[2] Historically however, this was not always the case."Wikipedia

Approaching your photography from a humanistic standpoint make sense since photography largely captures snippets in time and when these snippets have people as their main subject matter it makes sense to show or rather capture in each photograph what the human condition is.

Street photography is especially adept at doing just this but only when it is done the right way.

Street photography possesses the ability to capture a moment in time in the live of someone.

Here is where the photographer has to aim for a picture that tells something meaningful about the character and the human condition of its subject.

CC BY-SA 2.0

CC BY-SA 2.0

There have been great photographers who were well known for their humanistic approach to their work. Their photographs brought about change or at the very least , raised awareness in some cases but always aimed to show the human condition; good or bad, in their subjects.

They tried through their images to showcase the inherit good of most people, the evil that existed in the world, and the discrepancies in how one lived as compared to another.

"W. Eugene Smith’s photographs reflect his boyhood in the American heartland and his coming of age in the agony of World War II. His work, imbued with moral fervor, evinces a clear difference between good and evil, the individual’s ability to transcend his or her circumstances, the inherent goodness (even heroism) in people, the capacity and willingness of one person to help others (such as the healers in country doctor, nurse-midwife and Albert Schweitzer)."

Humanist photography in a way is like poetry but without words. Using photographs and a camera instead of paper and a pen.

It tries to bring about the experience of the celebration of life and to showcase the diversity in our human condition.

Off course it is always tainted or rather influenced by the experiences and views of the person behind the lens but the aim mostly remains the same.

Some ways of doing this are focused on how to to show the pleasures of life, and the day to day struggles that many face. It is often cutting but often poetic at the same time..

CC BY 2.0

CC BY 2.0

(CC BY-SA 3.0

(CC BY-SA 3.0

The theme is suited well for a monochrome medium like black and white but colors will do just as fine.

Keep in mind that the images do not have to solely focus on images of that show gloom and doom.

Humanistic photography also celebrates the small triumphs in life like a proud looking shop owner or a happy bride.

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Doesn't humanistic photography resemble other types of photography you may be asking and if so you are absolutely correct.

Photojournalism is very similar but while photojournalism focuses on an newsworthy important event humanistic photography on the other hand focuses on the people not the events around them.

This by no means is to say that whatever is happening around the main subject should not be taken into consideration or shown alongside the person. It just means that the action is not as important as those involved in it.

The question is how does the action have an effect on the people. This is by far the most important quality that humanistic photography looks for.

Public Domain

Public Domain

A good way to do such a project is to look at it as a humanistic photo essay. In essence you will be telling a story of either one individual or of many.

Depending on what you emphasize this can take a long time to come to fruition.

This type of photography is very suited for eBooks, for general photographic presentations, for welfare and philosophical publications and many other commercial tendencies.

Your images must be different from the rest but the good thing is that no situation is basically the same as any other.

If done well most will find a commercial venue suitable for it showcasing if that should be your intent.

CC BY-SA 3.0

CC BY-SA 3.0

© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


Luis E Gonzalez (author) from Miami, Florida on July 01, 2014:

sallybea: Thank you very much

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on July 01, 2014:

LuisEGonzalez - a terrific Hub. It definitely captured the moment!

I love street photography and spend quite a bit of time doing exactly that. I very much enjoyed reading this Hub. Thank you. Voted up and awesome.

Best wishes,


Luis E Gonzalez (author) from Miami, Florida on July 01, 2014:

Ericdierker: Thank you very much!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 01, 2014:

Simply Outstanding! This article is more like a force than a tutorial, thank you.

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