26 by 26 9:02am, 21 March 2013
Challenge #2: Photograph an image which exemplifies the essence of altruistic behavior.
— Steve McCurry

Steve adds...
“Neuroscientists believe that there is a neural basis of altruism. The
findings, published Dec. 23 2012 in the journal Nature Neuroscience, may shed light on why many animals (including humans) exhibit kind, unselfish behavior that doesn't directly benefit them.”

(external images are now initially hidden by Flickr, click on the grey icon to view)

Paris Art Web - Artists - Photography - Steve McCurry

Paris Art Web - Artists - Photography - Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry has been a one of the most iconic voices in contemporary photography for more than 30 years, with scores of magazine and book covers, over a dozen books, and countless exhibitions around the world to his name.

McCurry has created stunning images over six continents and countless countries, his work spans conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike - yet always retains the human element that made his celebrated image of the Afghan Girl such a powerful image.


We're hoping this challenge thread will act as a focal point for discussion around the challenge, including your initial reactions, thoughts about how to "solve it" and any links you think might help the group. It can also be a good place to include any old photos you have that fit the challenge or your work-in-progress during the two weeks before posting your final image to the group pool.

- What's your views on the challenge?
- Is it possible to capture an essence of altruism within a posed portrait?
- Do the examples of Steve's work above show altruistic elements?
- Does a photo you've previously taken fit the challenge?
- Is there an artist (in any medium) that you think has approached the subject successfully before?
- Will you follow McCurry's style of portraiture or choose a more lateral path?

We think it could be quite a difficult challenge and so thinking out loud on this thread maybe helpful! Here's a link to the Wikipedia definition of Altruism which might spark some ideas:

We're looking forward to hearing people's thoughts, good luck everyone!
— 26 by 26 team

(a quick reminder that submissions should have the challenge number in the title or description, there's only one submission allowed per challenge and old photos are only permissible in the discussion threads and not the group pool)
Barndillo 5 years ago
Very gritty imagery. Will be very hard to capture altruistic behaviour in my part of the world. This for me will truly be a challenge.
Monty May (OBSERVE) PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Monty May (OBSERVE) (member) 5 years ago
Very funny. I'm just reading the last book of Richard David Precht,who is a German writer and become especially well known as an author of successful popular science books about philosophical issues ("Who Am I and If So How Many").
The title of his latest book which might have not beenj released in Englisch yet could be translated with "the ability not to be an egoist" deals a lot with what Steve points at.
Difficult instruction. Maybe we should all visit a zoo and watch the behaviour of monkeys or follow Gary Winogrand.

One picture that might fit the brief:


John Paddler made a funny comment on the following picture:

"Yet another fine example of altruism in your stream."

photodrum PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by photodrum (member) 5 years ago
I love Steve McCurry's work and am familiar with the first image at the top of this thread. I also find it an interesting and possibly very difficult challenge. I do find if difficult to see, however, the altruism in that image. Ostensibly, it is a woman with her son begging. The altruistic part would be in capturing someone responding to her plea for .... well food..... or anything. When one has nothing, one needs whatever help one can get.
I can't imagine anyone capturing an altruistic act through random street photography within the confines of the timing of this challenge and it seems nearly impossible to do so in a studio environment, unless it is staged. To capture an altruistic action b y just walking around, one would need be incredibly lucky catching some act by chance, unless one was on assignment in some part of the globe where relief efforts were underway. One could increase those chances domestically by visiting, say, a soup kitchen, free clinic or something similar. Perhaps with Easter about to break on the horizon, there will be such possibilities. In any case, it should be interesting.Soup kitchen, here I come!
catt1871 PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by catt1871 (member) 5 years ago
I agree. Takes me back to the late 80s when this was the topic of choice in the New Scientist and I was doing A-levels.
This won't be an easy one without some serious lateral thinking. I am not sure that any action is truly altruistic (after all, we all get some gain from an action that helps someone, even if it is feeling good about something). Hmmm.
Btw, am a complete fan of Steve McCurry's photography since seeing an exhibition in Birmingham a couple of years ago.
Julia M Cameron PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Julia M Cameron (admin) 5 years ago
Found this to share with you...

Altruism or selflessness is the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures and a core aspect of various religious traditions, though the concept of "others" toward whom concern should be directed can vary among cultures and religions. Altruism or selflessness is the opposite of selfishness.

And this

Don't know if it helps but perhaps it was given in an altruistic way...
Wendy A. 5 years ago

Here's a photo I took on the Scott Kelby Photowalk in 2010 in Philadelphia, PA. I first loved it for the fact the dad had footprint tattooes of the little girl on his arm but the relationship of family now draws me to this photo. Thoughts?
Julia M Cameron PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Julia M Cameron (admin) 5 years ago
Old photo that I think fits the brief.
The Hardest Hit 1

and a bit more lateral...

#29 Cat family in a cafe 2
photodrum PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by photodrum (member) 5 years ago
Here's a very controversial image I took in Topeka, Kansas about 28 years ago (cir 1985). Whatever your reaction to this, this man, the infamous Fred Phelps (go ahead - google him) of the equally infamous Westboro Baptist Church, was acting in his own, albeit twisted, altruistic way. He's trying to save souls.
Fags Die
photodrum PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by photodrum (member) 5 years ago
Here is another image, taken on the street in Bangkok in 2007 of a man playing violin for a monk, while he was waiting for a bus. Would you say this was altruistic?
Wendy A. 5 years ago

I would say this one is a much better representation - one could debate whether or not the first photo's way of trying to "save souls" is truly altruistic or just spewing hate and judgement - but we'll have to leave that debate for another discussion board...not this one.
johnpaddler PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by johnpaddler (member) 5 years ago
Or standing around outdoors in sub-zero temperaturs demonstrating against injustice. Even though it is in favour of one's own ethnic group.

johnpaddler PRO 5 years ago
The other question is whether to adopt McCurry's vibrant colour.
photodrum PRO 5 years ago
How about a monk offering a blessing?

(194 of 683).jpg
Julia M Cameron PRO 5 years ago
Was thinking along the lines of...Journal Nature Neuroscience..

Neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) predominantly encoded rewards that were delivered to oneself. Neurons in the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg) encoded reward allocations to the other...

Looking for an anterior cingulate gyrus...!
IngeHG PRO 5 years ago
This is definitely going to be difficult. There are plenty of people begging in Brussels, but even giving them money or food is not really that altruistic when you can afford it easily. And like others said, for the essence of altruism you would have to capture an altruistic deed, not the reason for a possible altruistic deed.
Julia M Cameron PRO 5 years ago

Photographing beggars offers other moral and ethical issues. It is often regarded as exploitative, especially by some street photographers.
Emma Georgiou PRO 5 years ago
I have to say that I think this is going to be tricky. I've looked through my old photos and I don't have any that even remotely fit the brief. I'm off to scour my photos books for a bit of inspiration.
JanD2012 5 years ago
I get a feeling of empathy, rather than altruism, from Steve McCurry's examples - that would be difficult enough, but to find true altruism is going to be difficult in the extreme
LornaMcHardy 5 years ago

Now there's an aspect of altruism that never even occurred to me!

It opens up an interesting question: If the recipient of your altruism rejects its premises and effects with all the fervour of which he is capable, is it still altruism? I'm not convinced. I think it requires not only a lack of benefit to the one who's being altruistic, but also a clear benefit to the recipient of it.

I also agree with the previous post that questions the existence of true altruism at all... I think those of us who do good things for the benefit of others do it because one way or another, it makes us feel good. But that doesn't really affect the challenge :0)

This one's going to be difficult. I am way out of my comfort zone with photographing strangers in unguarded moments so even were I lucky enough to see a suitable scene, I'd probably not use it.
What to do? No idea!
He asking for 'essence'. Maybe there's a way of expressing that without tying it to a specific occurrence.
Still thinking....
LornaMcHardy 5 years ago

I'm not sure you would have to capture a specific altruistic deed... that's a deed, not the essence of the deed. I think we're back to the context thing again on this one. Essence implies lack of specific context.
Still thinking... I could be some time!
spikebaylor 5 years ago
I think as other's have said that a lot of the grand "altruistic" deeds are less so than they seem. A lot of times there is a reputation or social pressure aspect associated with the big showy deeds.

i think where we'll see the best examples are in the subtle spontaneous moments. Holding the door for a stranger, stopping to help a stranded motorist, even giving a co-worker a quarter for the vending machine I think are decent examples. I also think they'll be very difficult to capture well in still form.
dacaccia Posted 5 years ago. Edited by dacaccia (member) 5 years ago
People can be expected to know the truth

Written on the poster is: "Die Wahrheit ist dem Menschen zumutbar" (People can be expected to know the truth)
Julia M Cameron PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Julia M Cameron (admin) 5 years ago
Dave asks if it is possible to capture an essence of altruism within a posed portrait.
Possibly easier than finding a candid example, but only once an idea has been conceived...

Perhaps we need to take a fairly broad approach to defining altruism. I found this which feels about right to me.
al·tru·ism [al-troo-iz-uhm] Show IPA
the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others ( opposed to egoism ).
Animal Behavior . behavior by an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, as a warning cry that reveals the location of the caller to a predator.
1850–55; < French altruisme, equivalent to autru ( i ) others ( French autre ), with -ui from cui to whom; -l- restored from Latin alter ) + -isme -ism; popularized through translation of A. Comte, who perhaps coined it, on the model of égoisme egoism
david_gillett Posted 5 years ago. Edited by david_gillett (admin) 5 years ago
Interest stuff Julia.

The key word for me is "essence". Capturing people in the act of selfless giving will be quite difficult, though we've some talented street togs in 26 who I'm sure will manage it. My street and reportage skills are pretty poor so I think I'm going to concentrate on the mindset which could lead up to the act of altruism.

Altruism and religion seem have an intermate but troubled relationship. I'm thinking I might use the challenge to explore my own take on that connection. I'm not in the least bit religious so it could be interesting. Thanks for posting the image Fred, it's really got me thinking.

Capturing a moment when an individual is praying for others or meditating to achieve a loss of self and therefore greater compassion could be one route for me to explore. Photographing that very personal act could be invasive in the extreme, so I'm not sure how practical is it. The level of trust between photographer and subject would have to be very high... just thinking out loud...
david_gillett Posted 5 years ago. Edited by david_gillett (admin) 5 years ago
...all of which reminds me of this great set of images by Fernando Moleres
Men of God:

"During my work on monasteries, I became engrossed in capturing the cornerstone of monastic life: praying. It is that one moment that gives meaning to the lives of those who would be monks. The monk’s devotion during prayer is the most intimate moment that, for me, best communicates his faith.

I have never before done portrait photographs. The oft-quoted saying that the face reveals the “soul” does not convince me. A face can conceal as much as it can reveal. Our awareness of a photographic lens converts us into designers and managers of our appearance.

I had to find the right environment and make sure the subject was not aware of being photographed in order to broach the concept of devotion I wanted to convey.

The endless religious services of Orthodox Christians held inside poorly-lit churches offered the ideal ambiance to capture that intimate moment.

I regard these portraits as “impersonal”—the focus is on conveying a state of mind that transcends the subject."
darcydancer PRO 5 years ago
Spine Skegness
Palofperu PRO 5 years ago
My thoughts are that altruism is more than 'enlightened self-interest' because to behave altruistically you look out for the comfort and well-being of another sentient being rather than putting your personal comfort first. Sort of like being on a sinking ship with a chance of a lifeboat place and giving it up for someone you really don't like. It's something that costs you and you do it because somehow it feels right, or do you? Would I? Talk the talk etc. Putting yourself at risk to benefit others is something that countless people do everyday, RNLI personnel for starters or any of the rescue services come to that.
People working together collectively to support others inspires my thinking for this challenge so hopefully I'll be able to get something together along those lines. Good luck everyone :)
BeccaG PRO 5 years ago
Here is another link from wikipedia regarding Altruism (ethics) -
IngeHG PRO 5 years ago
The only thing remotely related to this theme in my photostream would be this one, Thai boys are expected to spend a year or two as Buddhist monks, divided into two terms, once before their tenth year and once in their adolescence. It will be a sacrifice, although it is also a schooling. But is it altruistic ?

Novices Day
LornaMcHardy 5 years ago
It's one o'clock in the morning and I'm thinking about essences of altruism! Damn you, 26x26... I'm going to bed :0))
I have some sunrise photos of snow-covered hills I want to take tomorrow... if there is a sun.
Good night, all.
Sebastiaan de With 5 years ago
Love the challenge, a well picked, hard subject.
Kristin Ator Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Kristin Ator (member) 5 years ago
Altruism! Difficult to capture the essence, because it seems like if you set it up, you are missing the point of altruism, but a true altruistic candid moment is hard to find. First thoughts went to a possibility of capturing (maybe my?) kids sharing food or toys, another thought was volunteer work - maybe at a food bank or homeless shelter, but you still have to find that tender moment. Another thought is capturing a parent's pure, selfless love.
Mother & Child
flowrwolf 5 years ago
The only altruistic example I can think of are sacrifices such as people volunteering to take up arms for a held belief to do the 'right' thing for King and Country, particularly in the context of the psyche of a time when you just did things like that. My personal experiences with let's say emergency services has mostly been of more of a concious self-interested/indulgence type. You know, a love affair with a uniform and involving a fair bit of narcissism. I have seen some truly heroic deeds, however, but without exception the 'so called' altruists see absolutely nothing special about what they have done. Maybe they are right: nobody forces them to do what they do after all. So, yes, it is going to be quite a challenge isn't it?
Joern Greuling 5 years ago
Palofperu PRO 5 years ago
Kristin Ator:

That's a cracking image.
Simon five 5 years ago
Defining altruism is the problem. I am reminded of the ideas in The Selfish Gene.
Julia M Cameron PRO 5 years ago
Simon five:

... and the unselfish gene Guardian Dec2003.htm
krysolove 5 years ago
I think people more often demonstrate altruistic behavior to the anymals then to oter people. But even then it could seems strange:

Studyjunkie PRO 5 years ago
Although I interpreted this image in a secular way, being agnostic myself, I suppose one could argue that praying for the souls of the departed is altruistic and while religion lies behind most, or many, of life's atrocities, the concept of giving your life to atone for the sins of others that lies at the core of Christianity is truly altruistic?
oomumsie 5 years ago
I think this challenge is one which will stretch most of us out of our comfort zones, maybe that's the challenge? I have read with interest the above comments and agree, true altruism is a random act of kindness, compassion or heroism which would be very difficult to capture on the average street.

Religious individuals believe they act in this way to 'do it for god' and their journey to god, so not truly altruistic as there would be an element of spiritual gain.
If someone clears their neighbours' drive of snow or fetches in some shopping for them or drops their change in a collecting box I would consider that to be an altruistic act. I do a volunteer job, but do not consider it to be altruistic because there are many beneficial gains to myself in self esteem, confidence and socialisation!!
A tricky one this!
Wendy A. 5 years ago

I thought of capturing something in religion as well - especially with Easter next week in the Christian Faith.
amjamjazz 5 years ago
why many animals (including humans) exhibit kind, unselfish behavior that doesn't directly benefit them
because it indirectly benefits them, which is almost the same thing.
Just photograph any queue. That is an example of Reciprocal Social Altruism.
It is not about charity, and even less about 'morality'.
MrGorski 5 years ago
Here are a couple of paragraphs from the Introduction to Biological Altruism in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, the link is I'll also comment on what seems an obvious application to the current challenge.

"In evolutionary biology, an organism is said to behave altruistically when its behaviour benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself. The costs and benefits are measured in terms of reproductive fitness, or expected number of offspring. So by behaving altruistically, an organism reduces the number of offspring it is likely to produce itself, but boosts the number that other organisms are likely to produce. This biological notion of altruism is not identical to the everyday concept. In everyday parlance, an action would only be called ‘altruistic’ if it was done with the conscious intention of helping another. But in the biological sense there is no such requirement. Indeed, some of the most interesting examples of biological altruism are found among creatures that are (presumably) not capable of conscious thought at all, e.g. insects. For the biologist, it is the consequences of an action for reproductive fitness that determine whether the action counts as altruistic, not the intentions, if any, with which the action is performed."

"Altruistic behaviour is common throughout the animal kingdom, particularly in species with complex social structures. For example, vampire bats regularly regurgitate blood and donate it to other members of their group who have failed to feed that night, ensuring they do not starve. In numerous bird species, a breeding pair receives help in raising its young from other ‘helper’ birds, who protect the nest from predators and help to feed the fledglings. Vervet monkeys give alarm calls to warn fellow monkeys of the presence of predators, even though in doing so they attract attention to themselves, increasing their personal chance of being attacked. In social insect colonies (ants, wasps, bees and termites), sterile workers devote their whole lives to caring for the queen, constructing and protecting the nest, foraging for food, and tending the larvae. Such behaviour is maximally altruistic: sterile workers obviously do not leave any offspring of their own — so have personal fitness of zero — but their actions greatly assist the reproductive efforts of the queen."

It may well be therefore that there isn't just one concept or notion that we can all agree on calling 'altruism'. (E.g., there's 'biological altruism' and 'everyday altruism', and only in the latter does intention seem to matter). Furthermore, for most of us for most of the time, spotting the difference between altruism and a helping hand isn't going to matter. I guess what I'm getting at is that while it might be possible to make precise the concept of altruism biologically speaking, the everyday notion of it is irredeemably fuzzy. There is, in short, no essence of everyday altruism, nothing that can be used as a metric to judge whether an action really is or really isn't altruistic. Though this doesn't imply that there aren't things that we might all have been conditioned to see as altruistic. Even so, I don't find either of McCurry's photographs to be images of altruism (certainly the word wouldn't occur to me on looking at them if I hadn't been primed by the challenge). But that isn't because I think he's made a mistake: it's more because I think that, in everyday use, the notion has such a vague emotional appeal that you can satisfy it by very many examples, depending on the story you want to tell about them. In philosophical terms, the difference I'm pointing to is that between a collection or set (such as the set of things that happen to make me laugh) and a class (such as the class of even numbers, that are what they are regardless of what I happen to think about them).
LornaMcHardy 5 years ago

I have just uploaded a photo that uses this biological definition, having decided that the everyday definition is indeed far too fuzzy for essence :0) For some reason, I can't upload, says I've already done the week's quota. I thought we had two? Maybe it's because I replaced the first one.
Never mind, I'll try again tomorrow :0)
~ Meredith ~ Posted 5 years ago. Edited by ~ Meredith ~ (member) 5 years ago
Hey Lorna I just had the same message when I tried too.

I'll be honest and say my heart sank when I saw this challenge and my brain did a five minute freak out :) A couple of others above mentioned they thought Steve McCurry's photos were more empathetic than altruistic and I found myself thinking the same. My first thought was also to find an act of altruism and photograph it. I also thought about the religious aspect but, again as mentioned above I'm not sure that they are always compatible. When I saw Pamela's entry, Marilyn and the Milk of Human Kindness, it made me go looking for quotes about altruism that might give me some ideas to play with. In the end it was PJ O'Rourke's quote "Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes" that leaped out at me and provided the inspiration for my answer to this challenge.
bart1eby 5 years ago
I'm really struggling with this one and it's really helpful to see that i'm not alone but the discussion here is giving me plenty to think about, good job because the only thing in my archive that even vaguely fits is this -

#32 omphalos
Julia M Cameron PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Julia M Cameron (admin) 5 years ago

My offering...
K8ieSmith 5 years ago


My parents live in a tiny rural village in Lincolnshire, with the absence of a shop, post office or pub the Church Hall is the focus of community activity. Yesterday I went in search of altruistic behaviour at the Easter Fete where I met elderly residents giving up their time on a bitterly cold and snowy day to raise funds for the Church. I enjoyed spending time with Joyce, who is 90 in a fortnight, on her stall of hand knitted baby clothes and shawls. The obvious altruistic act that Joyce performed was the gift of her time and energy to knit and raise funds for the church to guarantee her fellow residents spiritual welfare. Far more striking for me however were the tender interactions I observed between her and the people visiting the stall. I think I managed to capture a couple of stong images that would fit #2, just pondering which one to submit...
LornaMcHardy Posted 5 years ago. Edited by LornaMcHardy (member) 5 years ago
~ Meredith ~:

I agree, I don't see altruism in any of Steve McCurry's photos that I've seen either. But have you looked at the set entitled "the healer's art"? Nothing to do with altruism, but some of the best photos on the subject I've ever seen. It's fantastic.

It's also beautifully done, with some really good quotations. Should be included in every medical course curriculum somewhere!

Link here:
Mark W Russell 5 years ago
Looking through my old shots, I came across this one.

Tears quarter

Whilst I do not see it as particularly altruistic, I am not getting sucked into the debate and thinking too much about it.
I remember shooting this and thinking how close to tears the mothers were as well.
Studyjunkie PRO 5 years ago
Thank you , Lorna, for the link to the healing images. They are gorgeous and the quotations are super too.
~ Meredith ~ 5 years ago
I hadn't seen this Lorna. You're right it is amazing. Thanks for adding the link here. Actually I think some of these fit the brief perfectly (the old man with the medals and the nurses in Russia. Beautiful!) and I totally agree with you. It should be somewhere in the medical curriculum :)
~ Meredith ~ 5 years ago
This was my other idea for this challenge though I don't think it translates as well.

Challenge #2 The Wisdom of Solomon
LornaMcHardy 5 years ago
~ Meredith ~:

My favourite is the first one :0)
MrGorski 5 years ago

I think this is–or would have been–a brilliant response to the challenge. It absolutely smacks emotional and rational responses together in a really thought provoking way. No saccharine. No schmaltz. No narcissism. Just great.
nualao PRO 5 years ago
I'm very glad to see others are struggling with this one. I suppose that's good - as my aim in joining this group was to push myself way outside my comfort zone. I've definitely done that. I'm reading the debate with interest and intellectually that's outside my comfort zone also.

I do most of my real thinking for my job - and like to turn my brain off when I get home. This is making me turn it back on again.
Michael Dooney 5 years ago
I have been thinking about the challenge for the past couple of days and the only realistic image (in my mind) would be a portrait of a volunteer. Ruling out any kind of emotional or intrinsic reward, a volunteer by their nature does not receive any compensation for their services.

There are obviously varying degrees of volunteer work. In recent years there seems to be a trend of volunteer tourism where it's possible to travel to third world countries and assist the local communities, which mostly fulfils the (emotional) needs of the volunteers. However in general volunteers exemplify altruism/selflessness.

I am thinking of people in the local community who set up homeless shelters / soup kitchens, run youth support services, operate various branches of harm minimisation / education programmes, and so on.

It's a difficult second challenge, but hopefully it will be possible to capture within the 2 weeks.
photodrum PRO 5 years ago

Thanks MrGorski
I have been thinking along the lines of others here - to get some images of volunteers helping out. You know, the soup lines, resume coaching and habitat for humanity kind of thing. I have been researching local opportunities. i also checked out Westboro Baptist Church's protest schedule and there are several opportunities in the next 2 weeks to go capture some images. It may require a 7 hour drive to Atlanta or an 11 hour excursion to Washington, DC. I am very intrigued by the idea of capturing some of this hateful altruism with the White House as a backdrop. Depends on my schedule, but I might be able to make that happen.. Only thing is that I'll post late. We'll see.................
Voltaire 2010 Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Voltaire 2010 (member) 5 years ago
An extremely difficult challenge for a photographer to deal with directly. since altruism means that the person involved often doesn't want any thanks or publicity. Maybe abstract images like Julia's and Pamela's are the best way to go. As others have observed photos of giving alms to others can strip people in need of their dignity, they can seem patronising.

Altruism in war often means that the photographer has to put down the camera and actually get involved in rescuing or helping people.

Also altruism of carers is often a lifetime's work rather than a photogenic instant.

I'll really have to think about this one.
Richard Brown 56 PRO 5 years ago
I thought this one might fit.

Arthur William Clarke  KIA 11th September 1940, aged 20

Arthur William Clarke KIA 11th September 1940, aged 20

Came across this poignant roadside memorial driving back from Dungeness. Pilot Officer Clarke's remains are still in the plane, buried in the marsh from the impact, at the request of his family:-
MrGorski 5 years ago
Voltaire 2010:

Abstract or example? Though I no longer have a dog in the fight, I think the abstract representation of an essence might need a concept with a tight definition, mainly because it has to judged by it. So if there is no such definition, then the judgment isn't going to carry much weight. Examples, however, can be less exact (or a bit questionable maybe, depending on your point of view), and yet remain extraordinarily powerful representations. It's interesting isn't it, when you start to think about this stuff.
photodrum PRO 5 years ago
I think many times an altruistic act, while deeply meaningful and effective, makes a stinky photo. Example: Someone writing a check to their favorite charitable organization. or someone else donating their time teaching someone, say , computer skills, or dropping off food to a food bank. All of these are helpful and probably altruistic but do they make a good photo? Maybe someone can coax a compelling image from any of these or other acts of kindness. Maybe so, but it would be difficult . It would seem to me that to capture the "essence" of altruism, one would almost have to have interaction between 2 or more people. And then, like others have addressed, to do it while maintaining the helped's dignity.
MrGorski 5 years ago
photodrum, I don't think that the essence of altruism is that it be photogenic.

Seriously, the more I think about this the more it seems to me that 'altruism' is a concept like the concept 'game'. Neither has an agreed definition that can be stated in terms of the individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions that will guide the application of the term. But both are concepts formed in use, by custom and practice–so think of the way a rope is constructed, out of individual strands, none of which run the full length of the rope. What's left for the photographer? Well, individual acts of altruism. What this challenge boils down to then is no different from that of photographing a slice of the action during a game of football, poker, hopscotch … whatever.
david_gillett 5 years ago
After tying myself up in knots over what constitutes an act of true altruism I'm tending towards your point , that approaching the problem from an abstract definition of altruism can be difficult, where as examples can be judged on a case-by-case basis (hope I'm not misrepresenting your views!). In that spirit here's my progress so far...

... I'm popping into a daycare centre tomorrow to see if any opportunities present themselves for the challenge. It also happens to be a former residence of Haile Selassie. Among the Rastafari movement Selassie is revered as the returned messiah, God incarnate... I've a feeling I'll be too worried about offending an entire faith to take any interesting photos!
Julia M Cameron PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Julia M Cameron (admin) 5 years ago

Dave I love what you are doing here.

Some interesting discussion about approaches...

Whichever approach is taken, it seems to me that the image needs to be strong and speak for itself and not to require a long written explanation to give the "back story".
Simon five 5 years ago
In the UK people hold the door open. A simple act of altruism which seems to gain them no perceivable advantage. Some development shots, there are a lot of door holding styles

Doorgirl 0743


Doorman 0748
Mark W Russell Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Mark W Russell (admin) 5 years ago
In my opinion, if you need two or three paragraphs to "explain" the work then I would suggest you need to ask yourself if your work has achieved its aim. Photography is a VISUAL medium ............................
nualao PRO 5 years ago
Mark Russell123:

I agree that photographs should speak for themselves - but we often use photographs to illustrate the words of a story. Do not words and images complement each other - and become more than the individual parts by being put together?
MrGorski 5 years ago
Notanotherusername's response being a case in point? This too maybe.

MrGorski 5 years ago

Hateful altruism sounds intriguing. Look forward to seeing some results.
Simon five Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Simon five (member) 5 years ago

That is true but does it pertain in this instance? Is the intention of the 26 by 26 project to produce responses to a photographic brief, a written brief or a multi-media brief?

I have frequently see pictures put forward (in previous groups) that seem to be linked to the brief only by the words attached or by something in the photographers head. They may be great pictures but are they relevant?

It strikes me that as this is a photography group then the pictures themselves should speak. This also pushes photographers to really look at what their pictures are saying - which may (or may not) make them better photographers.
nualao PRO 5 years ago
Simon five:

Yes - I understand what you mean within the context of this challenge. I agree the pictures should speak.

I sometimes feel that words can add value to pictures and vice versa.

But I do agree that within the context of this challenge the words should not be needed.
James_2nd PRO 5 years ago
Isn't the need to explain a picture a bit like trying to explain a joke ... it sort of ruins the moment. I am a firm believer in that the picture should speak for itself and as a photograph what you are trying to portray should come through the picture. If someone asks why in a comment then fair enough ... explain away :-)
MrGorski 5 years ago
Simon five:

It would help me if you could say a bit more about how pictures speak, and about why the way they speak–wordlessly–is to matter quite so much. The reason I’m interested is that I’ve been looking at ‘The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence’, and the jacket picture shows the face of a young girl. There’s nothing remarkable about the girl, (a mere child, 7 or 8 years old) or the photograph, but, when you know that it was taken in Cambodia, in Tuol Seng prison, and that of the estimated 14,000 prisoners sent there between 1975-79 only 7 survived (and she wasn’t one of them), the picture becomes overwhelmingly poignant. (I’ll spare you the details of how prisoners–hundreds of children included–were routinely tortured and killed, though they too add to the impact of the photograph). You see my point? The backstory makes what is ordinary extraordinary, and the meaning therefore isn’t just tacked-on to the photograph but is latent in the image–in the story of where and when it was taken, by whom, of whom, and why. This seems to me to be just one more way of transforming a banal image into something stronger, of transforming the ‘look’ of something. Anyway, I thought it was worth mentioning: pictures may speak, but sometimes they tell fibs, and sometimes lies, and sometimes they become more eloquent when a silence is broken. Choosing to incorporate language into one’s pictures surely depends, inter alia, on the character of the brief–after all, if you’re only going to value the formal elements of a photograph, why would you care what it was a photograph of?
johnpaddler PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by johnpaddler (member) 5 years ago
I believe that if words are added they should in some way contradict the image.
Simon five 5 years ago
I refuse to engage with any comment that involves a/ more than 75 words or b/ mentions Neitzsche. There is a c/ but I can't remember what it is
Mark W Russell 5 years ago

I am struggling to see the point of your example. A photograph on a cover of a book is about a marketing imagine on a product of several thousand words.
The point here is surely that we are attempting to produce an image that responds to a brief verbal challenge. It is all about context and the context here is about producing a visual image as a response, not an image with an accompanying words that explains the picture, its context, the background, etc.
26 by 26 5 years ago
I feel we're in danger of heading off-topic.

Interesting though the interplay between supporting text and image is this thread is primarily concerned with discussions more directly related to the challenge. Feel free to start another thread that explores the image/text relationship.
– Dave
nualao PRO 5 years ago
This is my possible take on this. I see someone else has also had the same idea. I like this because it is being used exactly as I feel it was intended - to take in the beautiful view on a beautiful day.

IMG_1888 (1)
johnpaddler PRO 5 years ago
People feeding birds is a form of altruism?

by John Goldsmith
Steve Leverett PRO 5 years ago
Great difficulty with this - great challenge - my nihillistic side says that ...
TrueADEx by Steve Leverett
, notwithstanding my attempt as submitted ...
... but then I must be wrong because there have been some excellent responses ...
BeccaG PRO 5 years ago
Grrr, been so busy I've not had much time to shoot and what I have shot I'm just not happy with. If I do manage something today would it still be classed as in the time frame?
26 by 26 5 years ago
Hi BeccaG: Ideally the submissions for #2 would all be within the challenge fortnight so the group is responding to the same challenge at the same time. But we know that's not always possible. So yes submitting to #2 today would be fine :)
krysolove 5 years ago
Ha, I finally made the shot that could be good for 2-nd challenge, but as I did it a whole week later the deadline, I'll post it here (I hope it;s ok).


It was the celebration of 300 years jubilee of Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St.Petersburg. Two young chinese girls have bought the plates to cover their heads before entering the big Orthodox churche but they did not know how to tie it properly. This woman have seen that they don't know how to manage it and offer her help.
photodrum PRO 5 years ago

You said: " if you’re only going to value the formal elements of a photograph, why would you care what it was a photograph of? "
This is an interesting and insightful comment., MrGorski. I need to let this drape over me and wear it around for a while to be able to further respond but I find it very interesting.

Regarding the matter of sometimes pictures tell fibs or lies, I agree and go one giant step further: I might submit that all photos are accurate but none of them are true - NONE! Truth is a very squirmy thing to get your arms around. Images may contain some facets of "TRUTH", but it is impossible for a static, 2 dimensional shrunken image of a thing sliced from time at 1/onesomethingth of a second to contain any full truth. That image is highly structured by the photographer: He makes choices and in that act of choosing rejects other things. He chooses the camera, and thus format, whether to use film or digital, to shoot in color of B&W, what lens, what aperture, what shutter speed,what ISO, what to include and even more importantly what to exclude inside the frame, what perspective to shoot from, what time of day and what kind of light to employ. And it doesn't end with the click of the shutter. Add to that all the possibilities of post processing. If that weren't enough, consider how and where will the image maker present his image. Will it be a print? What size, what paper or screen, in what venue.? Will it be seen only on line? Who will see it? What are the desired responses of the target audience by the photographer? Who is to be convinced of what? All these choices hold sway on both the rendering of the subject and the final impact to the viewer. Each viewer will react in a very individual way to what they see. If there's any truth remaining here at all, it becomes highly subjective.
So what we end up with is an image that in some small way, represents one perspective of a version of reality, an image that includes elements chosen and equally important, rejected by the image maker. The very nature of choosing one element and excluding other elements reduces a whole "Truth" to something much less. About the only thing that you can say about it is that it is accurate and even accuracy is subjective.
photodrum PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by photodrum (member) 5 years ago
Here is my very late submission for challenge #2. I am posting it here first because I have already posted #3 this week and it will be late in the weekend before I can post another image. I will post it in the regular photo stream at that point, but at least I can get it in where others can review and comment.
D&Z going to school 26x26 #2.jpg

This is my wife Mary and our 2 grandchildren just leaving for school in the morning. So I hear ya: you're thinking " what's so altruistic about 2 kids going to school, anyway?"
5 years ago, the court system appointed my wife and me "Permanent Legal Guardians" of our 2 grand children. We have been raising 2 kids and will have them until the age of majority. If they weren't with us they would be in the "system" somewhere and we found that scenario unconscionable. Nearly every minute of our lives is in some way involved in an act of Danyelle's and Zak's care. So rather than make some long trip to photograph protesters, as originally planned, I chose to stay close to home and pick a moment which might exemplify adoptive altruism. In writing, it is always said to "write about that which you know." I like to take that to heart and apply it to photography, as well.
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