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The meaning of life in photos

Occasionally an image captures the worth and potential of humanity. I was recently a judge in a photo contest for images capturing selflessness. We were looking for photos of people engaged in selfless behaviors or demonstrating selfless intent toward people or animals. Willingness to help someone else is a recognition of that person’s value – and by extension – the value of all people.

I was amazed at the interest and engagement of community photographers. 220 photographers from all over the world submitted 367 photos. 80 of the pictures were worthy of commendation, but a vast majority shared beautiful images of people doing good.

If you asked someone to capture the meaning of life or selflessness in a photo, what kinds of images do you imagine people would submit? We did a quick review of the types of submitted images and found the results noteworthy. There were:

  • 174 images of people touching or reaching for each other
  • 93 images of children
  • 60 images of elderly people
  • 46 images of healthcare and rescue workers
  • 45 images of mammals – mostly dogs, cats, and horses
  • 27 images of people feeding birds – mostly pigeons
  • 20 images of people working with the homeless
  • 15 images of people in wheelchairs
  • 14 images of people running long distances for a charity
  • 13 images of religious ceremonies or clothing
  • 10 images of couples in romantic relationships

Here are the top six photos. We had to add watermarks because many of the photographers make their livings from their craft. 

6th Place – Photo by Nic Provenzo

This photo makes me feel something. You get a sense of a community coming together to rescue and heal. You sense the intensity and concern in peoples’ movements and in their eyes. The workers form a kind of rough circle around the chaos. The reds, oranges, and yellows throughout the picture convey a feeling of urgency.

5th Place – Photo by Pavel Mothejl

I enjoy the lines in this photo. The view from the cobblestones brings in interesting textures. The man is connected to the dog who reaches out to the girl whose foot points back to the dog. The photo is full of movement and interesting characters. It seems to me that the girl is reaching out selflessly to pet the dog while the man is helping the girl have a positive experience.

4th Place – Photo by Datia Ben-Dor

The composition and story of this photo interest me. The yellow taxi, red ornaments and shadowy figure seem to represent the difficulties in this woman’s life. They conflict with the grey and browns in the foreground. Despite her troubles, the main character finds a moment of happiness feeding her winged friends. There is something in the woman’s expression that gives me hope.

3rd Place – Photo by Annie Molinet

The wheat and the stone wall frame the moment beautifully. There is a kind of circular connection between the goat and the girl that captivates me. And the subjects are so adorable that it is impossible to keep this photo out of the top three. I take the message from it that even the injured and incomplete have something to give.

2nd Place – Photo by Catherine Durbano

After a truckload of toxic products overturned on the side of the road, nearby residents came to pick up the litter spilled on the ground on a road in India.

I love the colors, the interesting lines, and the story behind this image. There is so much movement in the man in the foreground. The interplay between the shades of blue and brown really draw me in. And what sacrifice to expose himself to toxic products to help his community.

1st Place – Photo by Doug

I love this photo. The lines of the skewed horizon convey a kind of distress. There is an absurd conflict between the poor man in the corner and the request above him to “Talk to us about a mortgage.” The businessman comes down to the level of the poor man and listens to his story. The world passes by unnoticed as a reflection in the window.

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