HUAWEI XMAGE: A New Way of Seeing the World

Huawei’s new trend report looks at what pictures tell us about society today.

Every year since 2017, Huawei’s NEXT IMAGE Awards have showcased some of the best photographs taken on a mobile phone. The awards have produced almost 4 million entries from more than 170 countries.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Huawei unveiled the HUAWEI XMAGE Trend Report 2023. Authored by four analysts, including Dr. Nichole Fernandez, a visual sociologist based in the UK, the report provides insight into the images submitted to the contest.

Gavin Allen, Editor-in-Chief of Huawei’s online thought leadership magazine, Transform, spoke with Dr. Fernandez about what she saw in the entries.

Gavin Allen: What did these photos reveal to you, and were you surprised by them?

Nichole Fernandez: There were so many images, each very different. But what shocked me was how varied they were. You had all of these beautiful images, mixed together with photos that capture moments of everyday life. Some photos seemed really ordinary. But to the people submitting them, those were the most meaningful photos they had. What people determined to be a good photo was incredibly varied.

Gavin Allen: What disparities did you see between images of women and those of men?

Nichole Fernandez: Overall, there were just about as many images of women as men. But there were almost twice as many photos of young women as of young men. That tells us a lot about how we, as a society, tend to value women for their beauty, their appearance. But these images of young women should not be dismissed. A lot of them are images that women have taken of themselves.

Gavin Allen: Do you think digital photography is changing how we perceive images? Is it democratizing expertise, to a degree?

Nichole Fernandez: Yes, it’s changing who can take a good photograph. It’s taking technology that previously was only on professional cameras, and making it available to everybody.

In addition to the technology itself, we also should look at how people use the technology. The technology impacts how we take photographs, but we also use the technologies in unexpected ways, and we take photographs in ways that were unintended. We are, in a sense, part of the democratization.

Grand Prize Winner of Huawei NEXT IMAGE Awards 2022——FORCE, taken by Adão Filipe Fernandes Salgado. (Source: Huawei)

Gavin Allen: They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Is the digital image now mightier than the pen – something everyone is using to express themselves?

Nichole Fernandez: I think that’s right. Vision is our dominant sense, and visual communication has surpassed all other forms. The image has become more powerful than the written word. The danger in that is that images are not reality. They’re representations of it. They’re someone’s construction. When we, as a society, see images as the truth, or we conflate seeing with knowing, we often get the wrong idea. I think as a society, we need to get over this notion that an image is an actual fact and is the truth.

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Gavin Allen: I suppose it’s always been the case. But it’s more overt now.

Nichole Fernandez: I think it’s becoming more obvious that our images are constructions in the same way that a painting is a construction or representation. As a society, we need to think about how we use images, and what we’re trying to achieve with the images that we have.