Human rights brings us together in our shared humanity.
To create a “better together” narrative, we need visual framing that creates a sense of abundance and can help foster cooperation as a priority in our thinking about politics and society. Human beings are meant to work together, and society functions better when we cooperate rather than looking out for ourselves as individuals or as countries.
These are images that seek to show that human rights is about acting in solidarity with our fellow human beings, no matter who they are or where they come from. In this narrative, human rights is the metaphorical glue that binds us together in our shared humanity. We use it to build fair and free communities. This narrative should lay the groundwork for advocacy: we want governments and their policies to embrace cooperation, to accept our interdependence.
Can we build empathy without an “other” to differentiate against? To build support for human rights, we should activate people’s sense of interconnectedness by reminding them of that thing that connects us all - the simple fact that we are all human.
Use imagery and stories that build up a shared human identity that can overlap with national, religious and other identities. Using these kinds of images we can show that human rights actors are a unifying force that helps people see beyond and respect each other’s differences. It can also be a call to action on global challenges like climate change. After all, we are all on the same team, even if some of us are at more risk than others.
Hands are a basic symbol human rights activists use to symbolise commonality and empowerment. Hands are naturally a common feature to human beings, but they are also the part of our body we use most to engage with others in friendship and respect: they can symbolise connection and interconnectedness.
When using hand imagery try to show universally recognisable gestures of greeting, welcome and togetherness (for example, handshakes and high fives) rather than anger, fear and division. With real life images, show people having moments of positive social contact, whether joining hands during a demonstration or shaking hands in friendship.
Images of hands and smiling faces might feel cliched or naive. But remember, repetition and familiarity are important tools for making a message stick. Try testing how different gestures work on different audiences to identify the most powerful symbol.
A symbol of the action we want to see, and a metaphor for the policies we want implemented.
In society, there are times when we need help. Rather than keeping people in need at bay, at arm's length, we want policies that embrace and support them. This is the behaviour we want to see - the problem with migration today is not the people who move, but the people who (fail to) welcome them.
Hugs also remind people what we are working towards, and that success is possible. Hugs are the thing we work for, the moment people go free, are reunited or achieve justice. Hugs symbolise not only the outcome, but the process of human rights: people sticking together when times are tough, whether physically or metaphorically, by campaigning for each other’s rights.
What better way to remind people of shared humanity than reminding them of the thing we all share: our planet.
The Overview Effect theory suggests that seeing images of planet earth triggers empathy by reminding people that we all share this planet: that our fates are intertwined. If this is true, the symbol of the planet can drive support not just for environmentalism but other causes that depend on responsibility to care for our fellow humans. This suggests that the human rights movement should embrace earth in symbols and logos.
Meanwhile, this imagery shows how shared humanity may also be a powerful frame for driving action on climate change, since only by setting aside the competition between different nation’s short-term interests can we act in the long-term interests of the larger human race.
When human rights activists imagine the world they want to see, they often draw or describe a community using scenes of streets and parks where people are at play, often surrounded by nature. What does it look like when we achieve human rights policies and laws are put in place? (not just for people most affected, but for everyone). These images allow audiences to see themselves in the future we want to build - not only as participants but as active creators and contributors to that future.
While much human rights research exposes societies’ failure to take care of everyone, our photography also needs to capture those moments of community to show what our work aims to achieve, so that even people not directly affected by violations can see that society as a whole will be better off if human rights policies are implemented.