Nick Hackworth

MILK, The Broad Walk, Regent’s Park

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

In 1999, a New Zealand publisher, Geoff Blackwell, launched MILK, an acronym for Moments of Intimacy, Laughter and Kinship, the world’s largest ever photographic competition. Inspired by the seminal Fifties New York exhibition Family of Man, which was intended as a photographic reminder to a war-scarred world of the universality of human values, Blackwell invited the world’s photographers to submit work that celebrated the universal essence of humanity at the turn of the millennium. Whether drawn by the $750,000 prize pool, the largest ever, or the enterprise’s touchy-feely values, 17,000 photographers from 164 countries submitted more than 40,000 photographs.

The 300 winning entries have now been published in three books, Family, Friendship and Love. They are also being displayed in an open-air exhibition format that is touring the world and is currently pitched in the eastern end of Regent’s Park.

The images, as one would expect from the project’s title, come from the populist end of the spectrum of photography. In them, sexes, races and generations unite harmoniously over life’s little jokes or comfort each other in times of need. Images of classic postcard moments abound; two cute dust-covered urchins embrace in a street in rural China, a crocodile of blind men led by a child walk down a Calcutta street, a look of absolute wonder is caught on the face of a tiny baby as his mum takes him for an underwater dip in the local pool.

Also well represented is that other popular category of postcard moment, the comic and vaguely surreal. The epitome of this genre being an image of two indigenous Indonesians, in full tribal get-up, complete with bones through their noses and stone-age equipment, pausing so that one can light up a fag.

Unsurprisingly the most moving images are those that depict that unnegotiable fact of life — death.

Of these, the several images by Jack Dykinga, a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer, stand out. They record the last days of his friend, Tim Caravello, as he died of a brain tumour while being nursed by his wife Linda. Even these few images and the still fewer facts disclosed about them are enough to create a well of empathy in even the most hard-bitten of cynics.

Until 7 September