2021: Review of the Year
Magnum Photographers share their work from the last 12 months, providing a broad review of 2021.
As 2021 draws to a close, Magnum asked its photographers to share photos, texts, films and more that provided a reflection on the year. Here you can find, in alphabetical order, work from, or relating to the past 12 months that shares the many perspectives and activities of members, associates and nominees.
“In 2021 I kept my head down and focused on my work. I’m blessed to have remained safe amidst the uptick in NYC violence and to have remained healthy whilst continuing on my path in photography. I was also blessed to have worked with Nas and Solange Knowles on different commercial projects; in addition, I shot some editorial work for New York Magazine. Altogether I am grateful for the experiences I have had this year.”
I spent time this year making The Stop Game, a docufiction film about a woman who is walking the Camino Santiago to be released from the care of the state after a period in prison.
Jacob Aue Sobol
Bruno Barbey left us on November 9th. After his death, I was first obliged to make an inventory of all his work. After these 6 months of work. Didier Bernheim asked me to prepare the scenography of a large exhibition of 57 works that was planned in the museum of Qingdao in China. He went there to hang this exhibition. These works are part of the book “Color of China” that Bruno had published in Beijing by the publisher POST WAVE in Chinese in 2019. The exhibition took place in July-August and September 2021. It will return next year in Paris.
Zied Ben Romaine
In the region of Zinder, Niger, I spent ten days capturing the lives, cultures and habits of the people navigating climate change, malnutrition, malaria and socio-economic challenges.
Before and after pictures from the Book of Veles – the book published this year that explores the themes of misinformation and the media.
The small Macedonian town of Veles (population ca 50 000) placed itself on the world map during the US elections in 2016, when it became an epicentre for the production of fake news. Looking for a way to make money, local youth created hundreds of “news” websites that emulated American political news portals, with names such as NYTimesPolitics.com, Trump365.com, USAnewsflash.com. These were spread to millions through Facebook and Twitter, and while the local youth made good money from the resulting Google ad revenues, they could also have inadvertently have had an impact on the election of Donald Trump.
Facebook and Twitter changed their algorithms to shut down such activities, but several of the Veles operators were found to have been active in the 2020 Trump vs Biden election as well.
The Book of Veles is an exploration of the possibilities of digitally manufactured imagery, with every picture being subject to manipulation.
After six years of near-constant movement, 2021 became a time to put things together and make sense of, or at least clarify, the accumulation of images, texts, sounds, and memories formed while completing and publishing my book American Geography this year. One was the over 3,000 objects I gathered as I traveled across the country. Like strange talismans, these objects carried a truth about American life, but first I had to learn their language.
The first image is my grandmother’s hand. When I gave her this tiny flower, my grandmother told me “Dis aux arbres de sourire”, which means: tell the trees to smile.
The second image was the first time I didn’t associate the port with the explosion. It was a full moon. The view was beautiful.
My grandmother left us the day I met 3ammo Michel.
The third image, in the video, is a picture of the hearing aid 3ammo Michel was wearing on the day of the explosion. The audio is a fragment of conversation he had with sound artist Nour Sokhon and I.
The fourth image is part of my new and ongoing project on women’s sexual fantasies. Rianna told me: “I fantasize to be with someone who understands I have trauma connected to sex and men. I also fantasize about being more assertive and blunt in bed, rather than being so shy. Telling him exactly what I want and where I want it. Being the fierce, sexy bitch, I am in my head.” For me working on this project is a way of resisting everything that is imposed to us in Lebanon.
Four Pictures and a short film from a zero-contact-two-week quarantine in a Taipei hotel.
Cristina de Middel
In 2021 I finished shooting one of my longest and also most delicate projects, Journey to the Center, an attempt to shift the perception of migrants by presenting their journey as an adventure that only the bravest would dare to take. I find it quite symbolic that I finished this personal journey of research precisely in such a challenging year, where lessons came from all sides and of all calibers. Luckily, the brotherhood of those who travel to reach a better place, geographical or personal, is a strong one, and it provides the necessary strength to cope with the fear that wraps you when walking an unfamiliar path. As migrants of life, the new and the different should be our allies and we should turn deaf ears to the sirens songs of populism and tradition of power whose only mission is to make us stagnate forever.
During the two week residency, I found my own line that I couldn’t cross in my childhood town. As the woman in the story does, I walked the line several times a day, documented each walk meticulously until one night, I crossed it together with my mother.
As the chaotic, final US withdrawal from Afghanistan happened in late August, I finished my book on the decade-long, complicated involvement of the Georgian Army. The book „Khidi“- The Bridge, shows my photos as a feature movie script, written by Dutch writers and directors Ineke Smits and Jeroen Stout. It follows a fictional unit as it defends a bridge from insurgents “in a war that maybe isn’t theirs.”
These images of this odd year start with the quarantine that brought me near my birthplace in the south of Greece, and end with a short journey to Mexico for the day of the dead.
I am photographing wayside chapels in southern Europe. It’s really a landscape project, about how these sacred sites were placed: in forest groves, in caves, on high ground. It’s a journey that began in Malta this year mainly because these chapels were historically important during previous (eg 19th century) pandemics vis. cholera and bubonic plague. Am awaiting some funding to continue the work next year.
I chose these 5 images because I like them! Two of them, taken in Brooklyn, are part of a long-term personal project. Another one was taken at the beach in Palermo on a commission on which unfortunately I couldn’t work more than 2 days this summer 2021, and that hopefully I will continue next summer. The last two photographs of fishermen were taken in a remote island of South Korea in October 2021 on a commission from Magnum and Shinan County. I have to say that I had a wonderful time working there (and my wife said that I was really sweet!).
The selection of photographs are from two different commissions in 2021. In New York I collaborated with BOYY – a handbag and accessory brand that has committed to celebrating all gender identities and expressions. The campaign itself captured a spectrum of emerging and established artists whose perspectives underscored BOYY’s gender-fluid approach.
For two years I have been creating work in Arkansas as a part of the Picturing the South commission with the High Museum of Atlanta. In the small river town of Augusta I explored the town’s landscape, architecture, and familial ties as well as the delicate dynamics of lineage and land ownership. I was repeatedly drawn to the White River, which was the economic lifeblood of Augusta until the turn of the twentieth century, and still remains a vital part of daily life. In the river’s many whirlpools created by opposing currents, I found a metaphor for tensions within the community and in the country at large.
2021 was an intense year in Russia. Thousands of people took to the streets in support of the prisoner oppositional leader Alexei Navalny and, with that, many protestors were arrested. Since then, almost all the remaining independent media in Russia were declared as foreign agents: which means the enemy of the people. In the summer the maybe biggest forest fires in world history happened in Siberia. They were bigger than all other fires in the world combined and covered Yakutia in thick dense toxic smoke. The year ended with Dmitry Muratov and Novaya Gazeta being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A little spark of hope the last independent newspaper in Russia will be able to continue telling the truth in 2022.
In 2014, after receiving news of a predictable national elections result, I tried to scan myself into the computer. Even back then, it was easy to foresee the situation India finds itself in today, where we are governed by an irresponsible, dictatorial, and supremacist government. What was surprising, however, was a certain misplaced, widespread belief following the election. Now that Modi was prime minister of a union of states, thought many Indians, he would focus on ushering in an agenda led by development rather than the religious supremacy he had been known to propagate. Perhaps the image of a sea of Modi masks worn by people attending his political rallies helped instill the delusion that the fateful fire in Godhra in 2002—sparking months of deadly violence against Muslims in the Modi-led state of Gujarat—was only a distant memory. Or maybe the proliferation of pro-Modi WhatsApp forwards led people to compromise their morals. Even my parents, who were new to WhatsApp, expressed confusion when I’d point out doctored messages they shared with me. At the time, the slogan “Hindu Khatre Mein Hai” (Hindus are in danger) circulated widely. The words were often superimposed on an assortment of images of what looked to be a riot, with buses and tires set on fire. These images included people wearing white skullcaps—meant to reveal that Muslims were responsible for the purported violence. Back then it was still relatively easy to identify and verify the origins of those images, to clarify that old images from another part of the world had been stripped of their original context and presented differently. But because my parents knew that the images they received were sent by friends and relatives, they had an inherent trust in these images. Out of frustration, my first impulse was to remove myself from the people around me who were starting to feel increasingly zombie-like in their reception of the new authoritarian political reality. I decided to scan myself away into the computer. The digital space—outside of WhatsApp, that is—seemed like it could teleport me somewhere else quickest. But all I managed in the scanning endeavor was a warped self-portrait of my hand. It was an afterimage of a glitched attempt at escaping the future, a photograph that remained neither a document nor an abstraction, just an image stuck somewhere awkwardly in between.
To read the entire essay – please click here.
If you asked me why I took these pictures and why I selected them, I would like to answer to the first part what Sir Edmund Hillary said when asked why he had wanted to climb Mt. Everest: “Because it was there”. I photograph things great and small because I notice them, am attracted to them, and feel compelled to work with them. And to the second part, I would say that they all work together but are also discrete entities, each telling its own ambiguous story. The common thread is not the place or subject; it’s the same eye, heart, brain and finger that took them.
I would like to defend the idea that there’s a type of photography that is not trying to demonstrate, describe, or persuade, but rather to snatch instantaneous fragments of unmanipulated reality in order to create dramas, to some extent imaginary, that touch the human soul.
I chose these photos because they perfectly represent the themes I have been working on this year; Social exclusion, conflict, migration and victims of hatred. These are, I think, universal themes that cross borders and eras and are rooted in the very nature of our society and our humanity. In France or in Syria, I found these same themes with different people and different implications, like a kind of cycle. I sometimes like to step back and give more context; showing the people I photographed evolving in their landscapes often says a lot about their situation.
Since 2013 I have been exploring the tangible and spiritual impact of violence on families in Mexico, including my own. My work focuses on communities fractured by the state and organized crime, in a physical and psychological sense. I am trying to create a testimony through which I can discuss all these layers of reality that shape my country.
I’m interested in exploring the symbolic construction of the territory where violence penetrates all and this violence crosses the physical and spiritual space of those who inhabit it. The territory as an analogy to a body or space that could be a house, a person, a family, a community or a country.
Montaña Estrella- Flor del Tiempo (Star Mountain – Flower of time) is the second chapter of my long-term project Firefly and opens my research around drugs and the poppy-producing communities of Guerrero Mexico; the state where I am originally from.
Fifty years ago, I began to photograph girl shows across New England. In 1976, I published Carnival Strippers in black and white. This year, I began to revisit my archive and rediscovered some early color slides, which I had stored away. I’ve just brought together a new volume titled Making Of which includes color photographs, contact sheets, notes, and other ephemera, alongside a reprint of the original book Carnival Strippers. I wanted to add more layers to a project that continues to provoke ongoing questions as relevant now as they were then.
2021 was an another year of protests. In January politicised Constitutional Court introduced a nearly total abortion ban. People took to the streets all over the country despite of the Covid-19 pandemic peak. Few months later 30 years old Iza from the small town in southern Poland died because doctors were afraid to make a decision to abort the foetus. I’m writing these lines a day before the parliamentary voting on introduction of the total abortion ban.
I wish I could say that the year 2021 was the year of the slow and awaited return to normal life. I had certainly forgotten that normal life, despite some moments of grace, is also synonymous with a return to turbulent events spiral. In Turkey, my country, the year was rough for many reasons. The return to normal life began with students protests and women marching for their rights after the country withdrew from the Istanbul Convention. Shortly before the summer, I was able to join a courageous and caring family of Kurdish nomads, to follow them in their transhumance. A welcomed break with nature and silence. Then the chaotic atmosphere, which seems never to leave Turkey, came back. After the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, thousands of people crossed the Iranian border to enter Turkey. Their looks still haunt me. At the same time, summer forest fires devastated the country. Remained out of control for weeks, they were of an unprecedented scale.They took the lives of eight people and devastated a priceless wildlife. It has since become difficult for me to continue documenting the many torments that continue to plague Turkey. But I keep the few drops of hope that I have left to wish that the year 2022 will finally give my compatriots some respite.
Oct. 27th 2020 is a short documentary published at several festivals this year. I also provided the photos for an essay in The Atlantic that told the story of Emmit Till who was tortured and murdered in Drew, Mississippi in 1955. For the New York Times, I shot M. Night Shyamylan and his daughter – my first celebrity commission.
Ellora is the epitome of rock-cut architecture. These are the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves existing of 34 caves, date back to 600 – 1000 CE.
What is so amazing, the craftsmen travelled from the top of the rocks, cutting and digging 100s of pillars – each pillar with most intricate carvings and each pillar has different pattern than the other. And within those pillars a large size of hall gets created and then there are deities like Buddha with his disciples in Buddhist caves. Then Shiva and his epic of miracles he created and other Hindu deities. And then comes the most amazing part of the Jain caves – one after another, amazing masterpieces- still surviving in perfect shape. All the caves have entrance from North west – reflecting side light on every sculpture and pillar and in other parts light is reflected from the floors- creating perfect ambience for a photographer to go mad, capturing the mesmerizing historical and religious magic.
2021 created this amazing challenge and possibilities of capturing this architectural marvel. There are already several books on Ajanta and Ellora caves, so the challenge was what vision one could share which will give a wholesome larger than life interpretation which is unique in its approach and style. The visitors at different times of the day, with different kind of reflected lights, their energies of faith and wonder and the power of sculptures within, made me go wild.
So the pandemic time became a celebration for me and I am blesssed with two very powerful books to be on our World Heritage Sites.
This image is part of a personal project I started in April 2021. With this work, which is slowly forming, I would like to reflect on the present moment, especially in relation to younger generations and the global signs outlining the perception of the future.
These portraits are made in Wisconsin, part of a larger body of work called Some Say Ice.
The covid travel restrictions gave me an opportunity to stay home, write and record a collection of thirty three ballads, many of which had been started in the fields of Central America, The Middle East, Africa, and Asia. They are field notes, true stories, and outright lies. Some were written, or finished, in a cabin I’d built at the back of my farm. The songs are being released next year as a three LP vinyl collection by GOST dedicated to the photojournalists who, against all odds, continue to go out into the world and get their hands dirty. Click the titles to hear the songs.
I worked in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2011, mostly in the civilian sector, but also on military embeds with US soldiers who were considered occupiers by the locals. I enjoyed their company most of the time but took to heart the fact that, according to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, more active duty soldiers committed suicide than died in combat. The field recordings that made it into the arrangement are from Afghanistan.
Leica Camera Song
The story is in the monologue.
Shenandoah (Highway of Tears)
The melody and origin song is based on the nineteenth century folk ballad about a fur trader on the Missouri River who falls in love with the daughter of an Oneida chief. I re-wrote the lyrics to reference the Highway Of Tears, which runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George, British Columbia, where many indigenous women and girls have been murdered or gone missing. The strange sound in the background is a music saw which I play with a violin bow.
All songs written, arranged, and produced by Larry Towell.
For me, 2021 was a year of transition, from finishing Waves, the pandemic logbook on Cape Cod with Rebecca Norris Webb (pub date: spring 2022), to a return to an ongoing exploration of American cities that I’d begun in 2014. Here’s a selection of my recent images from three U.S. cities: Brooklyn, New York; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Cincinnati, Ohio.
On the occasion of a retrospective at the Museum of Jewish Art and History, I brought out some photos I had taken at the Buttes-Chaumont Park in 1983, and never shown before, of old Ashkenazi Jews (from Eastern Europe), most of them survivors of the Nazi camps. They used to meet there every day to talk to each other, in Yiddish, about politics – many were former Bundists or Communists – or about “schmattès”, a term referring to tailor’s trade and dressmaking. As memories of a vanished Yiddish world fade, I tried to find relatives of these endearing men and women. We launched a search operation by posting 26 photos of the period on various Jewish websites. A historian pulled the threads of the first contacts, and we finally identified 15 people. Unfortunately all were deceased but here and there we found a niece or an emotional son. Among them, Bernard recognized his father, Fraïm Grinfeld, whom I photographed in front of his father’s portrait.