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Humans of the 21st Century

Posted on 21 Dec 2018

Civilization: The Way We Live Now: Not since Edward Steichen’s Family of Man has a photographic project taken on such an ambitious, global scope.

Civilization: The Way We Live Now is a landmark photographic record of early 21stcentury humanity. Accompanying a major touring exhibition, the book presents some 500 images exploring the complex spiritual, material, and political threads that make up our contemporary experience and our world. Not since Edward Steichen’s famous Family of Man has a photographic project taken on such an ambitious, planetary scope. From global trade to global faith, from city sprawl to celebrity cult, from the advance of robotics to the entrenchment of national borders, this is one epic portrait of contemporary humanity.

Alejandro Cartagena, Daughter at the USA – Mexico border wall, from the series Without Walls, 2017

Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena sees his photographic pair of a mother and daughter separated by the USA-Mexico border not simply as a poignant capture of one of the millions of families around the globe wrenched apart by geopolitical borders but also as “an opportunity to rethink what this wall is and why it will never divide the life that surrounds it”.

Reiner Riedler, Humanoid robot “Rollin’ Justin”, DLR German Aerospace Center, Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. From the series WILL, 2016

Rollin’ Justin is a humanoid robot and research platform for service robotics and ambidextrous manipulation. Rollin’ Justin is programmed to pursue several goals at the same time while complying with a task hierarchy. For example, it can serve beverages while observing the environment, avoiding collisions, and without spilling the drinks.

Nick Hannes, The Persian Court at the Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai, 2016, from the series Dubai. Bread and Circuses

With more than 270 shops, 50 restaurants, a 21-screen cinema and over 4,500 parking spaces, Ibn Battuta in Dubai is the world’s largest themed shopping mall. It is named after the explorer Ibn Battuta and themed around the six lands he travelled: Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India, China and Andalusia.

Edward Burtynsky, Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, China, 2005

For the first time in millions of years of human existence, more people live in urban centres than outside of them. Urban compression frees most people from the task of food production, although some must still fulfil that basic function on a mass scale.

Henrik Spohler, In Between, 29 Container terminal, Hamburg, Germany, nd

Hamburg, grandiosely known as Germany’s “Gateway to the World”, is the 15th-largest port worldwide. In 2017, the port handled 136.5 million tons of cargo.

Giles Price, Presumed dead. Gettysburg, Readdressed, 2013

The Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War, was fought in July 1863 over three days of unrelenting heat, smoke and fatalities. In 2013, thousands gathered to watch re-enactments of the battle. The characters who “died” were chosen in advance, some based on their birth month, and had to stay dead for the battle’s duration, sometimes as long as an hour.

Mauricio Lima, Refugees watch a huge plume of smoke as dozens of fires burn huts and makeshift shops at the camp called the "Jungle", in Calais, northern France, October 26, 2016.

A key focus and symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis, the so-called “Jungle” was demolished by French authorities in October 2016. Some 6,400 migrants were evacuated from the encampment by buses and transferred to migrant centres in different regions of France. Three days into the demolition operation, several fires broke out across the camp.

Pablo López Luz, Vista Aerea de la Ciudad de Mexico, XIII, from the series Terrazo, 2006

According to the most recent definition, the population of Greater Mexico City is 21.3 million, making it the largest metropolitan area of the Western Hemisphere, as well as the most populous city in North America. It is the oldest capital city in the Americas, continuously inhabited since the 2ndcentury CE.

Ahmad Zamroni, Muslims at prayer, Jakarta, 2007

More than 90 percent of Indonesia’s some 220 million people follow Islam, making it the world’s biggest Muslim nation.

Mark Power, The Funeral of Pope John Paul II broadcast live from the Vatican. Warsaw, Poland, from the series The Sound of Two Songs, 2005

The funeral of Pope John Paul II had an estimated viewership of over two billion people. 137 television networks in 81 countries broadcast the service. In attendance were 700 archbishops, 3000 priests, 59 heads of state, and 17 Prime Ministers. More than six thousand journalists, photographers and radio and TV personnel received accreditation by the Press Office of the Holy See.

Alec Soth, Grand Palais, from the series Paris / Minnesota, 2007

Fashion industrialist Karl Lagerfeld is captured from the front and in profile in Alec Soth’s striking distillation of exposure, celebrity, and honed self-stylisation. Creative Director of Chanel, Lagerfeld also photographs and directs all of Chanel’s advertising in a strictly choreographed sequence of production, image, and distribution.


Words by Eliza Apperly.

Hong Hao, Book Keeping of 2007 B, from the series My Things, 2008

Based in Beijing, Hog Hao began his series My Things in 2001. The works collage Hao’s personal possessions into compositions of formal and chromatic rigour to chart the expansion of his own material life as much as the development of Chinese consumer culture.


Words by Eliza Apperly.