We all have people who inspire us, by their approach to life and through the work they produce. Over the next year or so, I want is acknowledge some of those who make me try to do better, as a photographer, writer and storyteller.

I want to start with four photographers whose work astounds me, not just with what that work contains, but because of the sense of humanity their images carry. And that drives me to do better, to try to come closer to what they are doing. You won’t find any of their images here, not because I fear the copyright police, but because I want you to go look.

In no particular order:

Tatiana Cardeal

On her web site, Tatiana calls herself a “photographer, visual artist and a dreamer.” She has shot around the world, and produced a body of work that is rich in detail, colour and meaning. I can spend hours exploring the images at her site.

From her About page: “Tatiana’s photography is in search of a visual language to enhance human development, a photography that seeks the humanity existing through different socio-cultural identities, with emphasis on inequality, human rights and environment.”

For me, the key words are “a photography that seeks the humanity.” As well as being wonderful images, her light-drenched, rich photographs, in the tradition of countryman Sebastião Salgado, she allows the dignity of those she photographs to shine through, an idea and approach that resonates.

John Lehmann

John is a Vancouver-based visual journalist for the Globe & Mail. He’s spoken to a couple of my classes and I’ve had a beer or two with him, but even if I’d never met him, I’d still consider him an inspiration.

There are a number of galleries at his website (which, unfortunately opens with some autoplay music). I’d suggest you start with People to see a photojournalist at the top of his powers. (Go look; I’ll still be here if you come back.)

What inspires me are two different aspects of his work: closeness and space. He works close, close, close to subjects, sometimes brutally close, by which I mean the reality is sometimes brutal and unflinching; and he works, too, with photographs that use space as an element that invites a long exploration of the stories he is telling.

Take a look, too, at 2011 in focus: Best B.C. photos of the year at the Globe & Mail site, which features nine of John’s photos from last year and his stories that go with them.

Melissa Lyttle

Melissa is a photojournalist who toils for print and online for the Tampa Bay Times (which was the St. Petersburg Times until yesterday). Her portfolio is rich with images that get inside the lives of her subjects.

A lot of her work is black and white, in the fine tradition of documentary storytelling, but look at her images from Haiti and Mexico: her use of colour ranks, for me, with the likes of William Albert Allard. Her vision is clear and sharp.

In her work, I see someone paying full attention to the story she is telling. Her long-form documentary work is as real as life gets.

We’ve never met, but we’ve exchanged occasional e-mails and tweets and, this semester, she sent me a detailed e-mail on her approach to storytelling after I used her piece Motel Families in a storytelling class I taught. Through her blog, The Life of M, and her work with A Photo a Day, she shares constantly, and promotes the discovery of other photographers. (By the way, “He discovered and shared,” would not be a bad inscription for a gravestone.)

Mihailo Radičevič

I’ve only recently come across the work of Mihailo Radičevič, on Google+, which, I’ve discovered is chock-a-block with great photographers. Mihailo, who calls himself an holistic photographer, shoots in Serbia. And, man, does he shoot.

Take a look at any of his galleries. I like his Nature and Bricks and Portals collections, which are wonderful explorations of shape, space, mood and tone, images worth exploring in depth.

I find four of the galleries special: Faces 1 & 2 and Street 1 & 2. All of these images bubble with life. Some feature humour, some speak of pride, all speak of the everyday. And, again, they treat subject and viewer with honour and respect.

That’s inspirational: to take on daily life in a straight-forward way that rises to the level of art through respect.

I could go on: there are dozen of people who inspire me and push me every time I pick up a camera. And then there are the writers…

More, as they say, later.