Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Human Tribe - Alison Wright

Summary: A page-turner in the most exquisite sense, this book of over 160 portraits expresses the emotive beauty and grace of the human face. Documentary photographer Alison Wright traveled to every continent to capture the diversity of the human tribe, from toddlers to those who’ve lived a lifetime, and from South America to Africa, Asia, and points in between. Some of the people photographed are privileged, some live ordinary lives, and others live close to the land and in communities that may not last another generation. Collectively, these surprising studies of the human face remind us of our common bond and the inherent dignity in being ourselves. (Image and summary from Photo credit to Alison Wright with one exception.  This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.)

*NOTE*  I am not a photography expert.  I have a brother who is a professional photographer, but that is as close as I will ever get to being one.  As such, I can only give you the Average Jane perspective, but here goes... 

My Review:  Human Tribe is a striking collection of 160 + personal portraits, taken and compiled by photographer Alison Wright during her intercontinental travels.  The images are a mix of close-up portraits and others taken a little further back so that you can gain a little context (see below).  Collectively, these photographs are all the things --  intimate, arresting, vibrant, and unbelievably compelling.  Whether the images are joyful or sobering, everyday or extraordinary, each is a remarkable expression of the human experience. It's simply beautiful, not just in the "aesthetically pleasing" kind of way, but in a deep-rooted, soul-searing, meaningful kind of way.   There was so much to examine -- so much color, light, and emotion in each picture that I could feel it in my chest with each turn of the page. 

Human Tribe is minimalist in design; each page holds a single color photograph, with the location and year it was taken.  At first, I was a little disappointed with the lack of detailed captions. I wanted to know more about each individual and their story -- I'm nosy like that.  However, the more time I spent with the book, examining the faces of each person, admiring their (often) traditional clothing, seeing the different circumstances in which they lived, and imagining their stories, the more I fell in love with the simplicity of the design and the focus on people rather than text. It was as if the lack of words gave the pictures even more substance.  

It's was difficult to pick my favorite aspect of this book, so instead of one thing I have several.  First, the close-ups images were particularly powerful because they gave me the opportunity to really examine the faces in detail.  For an introvert, like myself, who struggles to make and keep eye contact, there is something exhilarating about being able to stare into a stranger's eyes and study their expressions at length without feeling awkward.   At a time when we are all feeling the strain of separation, it was somehow cathartic to be able to connect in some small way with the world around me.  I had time to really see each person and those moments, in a way, felt sacred to me. 

Alison Wright, of course, says it best:
The planet, at times, can seem so vast, with the breadth of humanity almost too large to comprehend.  But when you capture the look in someone's eyes, an intimate stare, a knowing glance, his or her situation becomes a shared experience, a more personal connection.  Their eyes seem to radiate a dignity, a claim for a right to be seen, no matter what their circumstances.  These eyes are what initially draws and connects us together.
Second, I noticed that while most of the photographs were placed randomly, every so often two consecutive pictures of people separated by continents and cultures would contain certain similarities.  I can't be sure, but I felt like this was intentional and a subtle reminder of our universal connection.   At other times, I'd turn the page and there would be a jarring juxtaposition -- like a young Tibetan boy holding a gun, a burka-clad woman sitting in front of modern artwork, or a young girl standing amidst the rubble of a war-torn street (see below).   It's strange how such a small picture can suck the air out of a room, isn't it? 

At its heart, Human Tribe is a magnificent compilation of photographs that shows the human family in glorious perspective. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to feel a little more connected to the world around them and its people.  Not only do I plan to keep this book (which doesn't always happen), but I plan to leave it in a special place I reserve for books I hope my daughters will pick up, pour over, and truly absorb.  I have no doubt they will come away with an increased respect and appreciation for individuality, cultural diversity, and the beauty that comes from human connection.   

UPDATE: So, I did it.  I left Human Tribe on an end table near my 8-year-old daughter's favorite reading couch and the very next day I found her curled up with it.  She called me into the room to discuss one of the pictures -- an Ethiopian woman with a lip plate -- and we talked about the traditions of other cultures and different definitions of beauty.  Then she asked me how the woman pictured above got her face so white, which led to another conversation.  I look forward to many more conversations and I am thrilled to have this book in our permanent collection!

If you'd like to read more or purchase Human Tribe, click here.  (not an affiliate link)

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  All clear.  

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