This year, New Zealand–born photographer
was assigned the groundbreaking April cover story of National Geographic
’s Race Issue. It was an especially important edition, as the editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg, apologized for the 130-year-old publication’s past coverage, which often promoted stereotypes of marginalized people.
The Race Issue also had a declaration—that race has no scientific basis. Skin color “is not a binary trait,” as geneticist Alicia Martin is quoted in the cover story. “The 21st-century understanding of human genetics tells us that the whole idea of race is a human invention,” writer Patricia Edmond concludes.
Shooting the historic issue fit neatly into Hammond’s larger career, which has been marked by his dedication to social issues. He spent much of this year photographing for the ongoing campaign Where Love is Illegal
, launched in 2015 by his own nonprofit, Witness Change
. The campaign features photographs and testimonies of LGBTQI+ people in countries where they are oppressed; many of the subjects are pictured hiding their faces.
For The Race Issue, Hammond photographed two powerful stories. For the cover, he featured British fraternal twins Marcia and Millie Biggs, who do not share the same skin tone: Millie is black, and Marcia is white. Likewise, his second shoot, documenting the incredible diversity of various distinct communities in Africa, reinforced the idea that race is not a biological dividing line. In fact, as the writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, stresses, among humans, “the deepest splits” aren’t between people who are black, white, Asian, or Native American. They’re within African populations, “who spent tens of thousands of years separated from one another even before humans left Africa,” she writes.
Hammond’s images of African people of all ages are stripped-down, classical portraits taken against a white backdrop, with soft lighting. Unlike the magazine’s older coverage, which Goldberg acknowledged “pictured ‘natives’ elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché,” Hammond focuses on their beauty and individuality, letting their features shine.