Is This Portrait the Most Representative Photograph of the Human Race?


If you had to select one photograph to best represent the entire human race, which photograph would you choose? That’s a question encyclopedia editors must answer, and one that the Wikipedia community had to as well. The photograph above is what they have settled on (as of May 2013) for their article on “Human”.

It’s a portrait of a couple from northern Thailand’s Akha people group, indigenous hill tribe. The husband is carrying the stem of a banana-plant that will be fed to their family’s pigs.

Over on in the question and answer community Quora, a member recently asked why Wikipedia would choose this specific photograph as the one that would describe “human.” The member writes, “I mean, are there no images that would better symbolize or be more representative of the species and its characteristics?”

The top-rated answer, submitted by Seattle-based photographer Todd Gardiner, points out that Wikipedia members actually had a lengthy debate regarding the merits of the photo.

In the end, the members concluded that the photograph is “just about perfect” because it portrays average humans.

Wikipedia features the portrait as the lead photograph in the article on "Human"

Wikipedia features the portrait as the lead photograph in the article on “Human” (as of May 7, 2013)

After all, most people on Earth aren’t particularly light in dark, but “a sort of brown.” Thus, the skin color in the photo is average and representative.

Asia has 4.2 billion inhabitants, so Asians make up over 60% of the world’s population. Most of the inhabitants in Asia are East Asian, which is the region featured in the portrait.

Most people throughout history have worked the ground as farmers. In the modern world this might not be true anymore, so this point is a little more iffy. “Maybe a new image should show a pair of factory workers,” the Wikipedia member writes.

Finally, most people throughout history have been “pretty poor, but not shockingly poor.”

Thus, according to the Wikipedia community, the “average” photograph above may be one of the most representative photographs we have of mankind.

Image credit: Photograph by Manuel Jobi

  • Fuzztographer

    Have the Wikipedia editors taken leave of their senses? Just have a collage or grid with photos of various people in various parts of the world.

    Is Wikipedia about “average” or “accurate”? What drivel. Sheesh.

  • Adam Cross

    perfectly fine

  • harumph

    It mainly serves as an illustration of why the concept of averaging is not useful in many fields. In a very literal sense, this image doesn’t accurately represent anyone other than these two specific people. At best, it might be a fair representation of the average Akha farmer.

  • Jake

    The fact that people are debating this furiously over the content of a website that, despite some good fact-checking, is still just based on regular people writing whatever they can get away with. Anyone who gives Wikipedia this much credit as an authoritative source on anything is giving too much credit to the Internet community overall.

  • nn

    Give the internet community all the credit it deservers… Having debates like this on whatever website is what the internet makes possible and is one of its many great accomplishments. Wikipedia already is a great resource and might sometime very well be a complete database of humankinds collective knowledge, that is based on discussions like this.

  • Jason Kim

    A couple days ago, I went on wikipedia to look up Mozart. Instead, I found “Wolfswag Amadeus Brozart”.
    Must we really argue about the cultural relevance of Wikipedia?

  • Samuel

    then why does “Wolfswag Amadeus Brozart” bring up a single google result? unless i have overlooked the sarcasm which is possible.

  • salty

    Thanks Michael!


  • Ezra

    Either way, the dude is likely wearing hemp clothes since the Akha are traditional hemp farmers and weavers. It’s pretty cool, at least for me, that the pic they chose shows folks wearing hemp, something more humans should wear. The stuff rocks. Great plant and fabric for so many reasons. Pretty photogenic stuff too! Keep up the great work, Michael & PetaPixel. Love the blog.

  • Bob Rogers

    I would look to HONY for average! Love the sentiment though.

  • Syuaip

    as a human, i approve this post

  • Jason Kim

    i have no proof, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

  • Kevin A-Z

    Asians will one day rule the world!
    – ___ -

  • Dave

    You are eating a bag of Funions and Gilligan’s Island is on the tv right now,….right?

  • Trausti Hraunfjörð

    The photo is faked.

    These imposters are not humans… just have a look at their hands: No iPhone present… nor do they look like people who watch stupid TV content or eat McDonalds burgers every other day.

    Totally fake.


  • madmax

    There is no thing like “human race”. There are hundreds of races and all are Homo sapiens sapiens, the modern human species.

    Why the hell why must use this nonsense, non scientific term? We don´t say the “dog race”, the “cow race” or the horse race. Ridiculous.

  • madmax

    Me bad. The horse race is correct!

  • Emton

    Not sure if winning “most average summation of human existence” (according to a Wikipedia comment thread) is something to be proud of or ashamed of?

  • Cecil Puede

    It should be a Filipino because they have Asian roots and Islander roots mixed with Spanish roots which have Moorish, Arab and European roots.

  • Olles Gård

    Well, throughout history people actually lived of gathering/hunting. Even farming is quite new to the human race. If you want to depict the average human today, just take a picture of a fat person in modernday clothes sitting in a car.

  • mooboy

    You’re showing your own ignorance and you’re revealing yourself to be a liar. Wikipedia has full history. A quick look at recent history shows no vandalism to the page, and no changes at all in the last 6 days or so.

  • Jason Kim


  • Jason Kim

    I have no intention on furthering this argument on something so trivial as a petapixel post. If that mans that I will be labeled “ignorant” and a “liar” by you and everyone else here, so be it.

  • Lindy

    The entry, while well meant, fails from misuse of the term, “average”, when what was shown is “representative”. And only representative of those two humans in their surroundings.

    Fuzztographer is quite correct. A collage would be more reflective of the human race; yet even so, completely inadequate. For example, can you imagine an average seahorse?

    Humankind is diverse as beautiful. My husband said, “can you imagine an alien race coming here to make off with an “average” human being? Enough said. At least we are thinking, eh?

  • Ezra

    Not quite, but cute. :)

  • nahanni whisky

    does Wikipedia pay these models a fair trade wage to have their likeness represent the human race? if not … that would be average. =:-/

  • Jimmyd

    I think this is one of the most boring pictures I’ve seen on the human spirit. IF this was the best then they should have kept looking. With BILLIONS of images to chose from, this one says little to nothing.

  • JimmyDee

    The article used the single word “human” not human race. I think you should learn to read and remember what you read before ruffling your feathers.

  • madmax

    The title says: “Is this portrait the most representative photograph of the Human race?”. I don´t if you are blind or plain stupid.

  • madmax

    I know. Probably the second.

  • Samuel

    perhaps give me the link?

  • Neil (Not THAT Neil)

    I wouldn’t be so pedantic with such appalling English. :D

  • Neil (Not THAT Neil)

    Thanks for making me laugh!

  • Todd Gardiner

    As I said in the Quora article I wrote, this is NOT the only image on the page. It is just the first one. There are a series of photos showing different age ranges, from childhood to very elderly. I find that to be a better representative of humankind.

    But I had to answer the question that another user posed and that answer was to explain that the first image was subjected to a discussion.

  • Todd Gardiner

    I agree. It is appropriate to critique the PetaPixel for inserting the word “race”, rather than using the Wikipedia article’s usage.

  • Todd Gardiner

    Numerically farming beats out hunter/gatherer over the entire course of human history. Farming produced a great population boom.

  • Todd Gardiner

    Encyclopedia imagery is rarely “thrilling”.

  • Todd Gardiner

    As I said in the Quora answer, this is not the only image on the Wikipedia article. It is merely the first one.

  • Mantis

    I think you’ve completely missed the point.

  • Ludwigddy

    This is a mediocre standard of judgement that any layman can think of.

  • Frank Navarrete

    In support of the choice, the husband looks upset in the company of his wife — very representative.

  • batman dad

    do you not understand how wikipedia works in the slightest?

  • tryanmax

    Or we could put aside the notion that there is an “average” human. What picture would you select for an article on canines? The debate is silly.

  • Rich

    I seem to have heard the term horse race and even dog race used frequently…