Photography by Liesa Cole

Produced by Tony Rodio

Assisted by Andi Rice


In Liesa Cole’s latest body of work, she seeks to erase the lines of religion, status, race, ethnicity, lifestyle, and politics that persistently divide us. She views division, dehumanization, and polarization as the dark inheritance of our ancestors’ tribal tendencies. She argues that what may have been a survival instinct in a primitive world is now detrimental to our modern world, catalyzing unnecessary fear, mistrust, and violence.

By juxtaposing unlikely associates—like celebrities with destitute drifters and bedazzled drag queens with the Dalai Lama—Cole challenges us to peer past the external stereotypes of each, to recognize the very real and familiar human being within. Whether prompted by reverence, repulsion, or even indifference, Cole believes that often, our initial responses to the individuals we encounter are reflective of our own personal biases—imagined two-dimensional, dehumanized stereotypes we can easily categorize in our mind. Once we are aware of this reflexive habit, we can make a conscious effort to see beyond the visible exterior.

In harmony with the teaching of all major religions, as well as secular psychology, this view holds that in our deepest core, we are all virtually indistinguishable—We all strive to find love, acceptance, and genuine happiness, while seeking to avoid rejection and suffering. Once we are cognizant of our inherent sameness, we can pivot from judgment and go beyond mere tolerance to genuine love and concern for the well-being of every individual.

Ultimately, these portraits will be presented as life-size prints hung shoulder to shoulder in a provocative juxtaposition of people in an imagined world where there are no divisions.

Except for the celebrities, all  subjects were complete strangers approached and photographed in the night in a pop-up studio on the sidewalks of downtown Birmingham. HUMAN is an ongoing, comprehensive project that Liesa Cole will continue to shoot over the next year; ultimately, the photos will be shared in a full exhibit and eventual book.

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