US-based photographer Anna Mia Davidson was voted as our People’s Choice Winner, after The Guardian editors picked her image as one of the best Portrait of Humanity entries so far. The image shows a farmer and her grandson harvesting flowers. Bright and rich with colour, the portrait celebrates its subjects. As with many of Davidson’s portraits, the image captures a bond – in this case, between grandmother and grandson. Family is where photography began for Davidson, whose father – a professional photographer – encouraged her interest in the medium from an early age.
Davidson has published two photobooks, Cuba Black And White, an eight-year project focusing on life in Cuba during the United States’ embargo, and Human Nature: Sustainable Farming in the Pacific Northwest, a multi-year portrait project about the people behind the sustainable farming movement. Davidson’s chosen topics tend to be weighty and complex, but her photographs are optimistic, and the resounding message of her work is that crisis can be overcome by the power of community.
Can you tell me about your background as a photographer? How and when did you first get into photography?
I grew up in New York City (US) surrounded by photography in my home. My father and I would go out on the streets making photographs, then head home to develop the film in his darkroom. It was magical. It was a way to connect with humanity and to each other.
I grew up with photography as a way to tell a story, but in college I began to see it as a powerful tool for social change. It was the merging of these two ideals – photography as storytelling and photography as a tool – that inspired me to focus my lens on social justice, human rights, and environmental issues facing our time
What is the story behind the photograph you entered into Portrait of Humanity?
The photograph is a portrait of Kao Lee Cha and her Grandson, Kong Lor, in the flower field of their family farm in Fall City, Washington US. Koa Lee is a Hmong farmer originally from the nomadic mountain peoples of Laos, Cambodia, and China. She came to the United States and started a family farm using many of the same sustainable growing practices she had practiced overseas. She was the first woman certified organic farmer in Washington State. Kong Lor helps his grandmother in the fields after school and on weekends.
Why did you decide to enter the Portrait of Humanity award?
I want to highlight the importance of sustainability as global warming persists. There is a resurgence of sustainable farmers in the Pacific Northwest, and the individuals that represent that movement are bright, passionate and inspiring.
Farming is a link that most nations on Earth share. It is now a crucial time in history when all nations must look to alternative means of food production as an answer to environmental, social, and health issues. Our future depends on a new appreciation for local production, and we will need to embrace and cherish how it looks to be truly sustainable.
What would it mean for you to exhibit your work in Portrait of Humanity’s global tour?
It would be an incredible honor to have my work accepted as part of what will be one of the greatest collaborative photography exhibitions in history, celebrating our shared values of individuality, community and unity. Ultimately it would enable my image and the message behind it to gain widespread exposure and help facilitate an important change in collective consciousness around sustainability.
Do you have any advice for other entrants about selecting a portrait to submit and, more generally, about getting into portrait photography to begin with?
Creating strong portraits is about building an authentic connection with the subject and the subject matter. When photographing portraits I ask myself ‘what is the deeper importance here?’ Then, I try to convey that in the image. Typically, the portraits I take are part of a larger body of work. When selecting a portrait, I seek out an image that represent the overall message of the series in a powerful way.
Entries to Portrait of Humanity are now closed. Shortlisted & winning photographers will be announced in May 2019. Learn more about the award here