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The Photos of the Year for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2021

tornado debris is visible from inside a movie theater

a ship called the Ever Given is stuck in the Suez Canal

terrorist storm the Capitol Building on January 6

a man dressed in an elaborate costume get a vaccine shot

a group of kids play soccer in front of a setting sun

a young child with Covid on a respirator

a school band rehearses, each in an individual airtight pod

a monkey walks though a scale model of a city

volcanic ash almost completely covers a house

citizens protesting the coup in Myanmar firing slingshots

Simone Biles flying high in the air above the vault

It is difficult to separate 2021 from the previous year — Covid, social & political unrest, and the climate crisis bind them together in my memory. I think, at the beginning of this year, many people thought it was going to be better year than the last, but instead it was 2020: The Sequel. Meaghan Looram summed the year up succinctly for the NY Times:

The year 2021 opened with the promise of vaccines, and the belief that we would all return to “normal” after the tumultuous year of the pandemic. But the year instead took off with an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, and saw a summer of carefree gatherings derailed by a fast-spreading virus. Governments fell, democracies were challenged, and climate-related destruction was unleashed, all while the casualties of the pandemic continued to amass. The vaccine saved some lives, but human passions, hopes and fears did their usual work to create a year that was anything but calm, and is ending with the prospect of a new variant upending plans once again.

As I do every year, I went through a bunch of photos-of-the-year lists and picked up some favorites; they are embedded above. The first photo, taken by amateur photographer Shawn Triplett with his iPhone in the aftermath of the Kentucky tornados, wasn’t included in any of the lists but it was probably my favorite of the year. There’s something about the framing, the emptiness, the destruction, and the screen-mediated chaos vs. order that is the perfect metaphor for how things are feeling right now.

You can check out more of the year’s best photos here:

The photos above were taken by (from top to bottom): Shawn Triplett, satellite imagery, Shannon Stapleton, Jouni Porsanger, Siphiwe Sibeko, Callaghan O’Hare, Don Seabrook, Alexey Pavlishak, Emilio Morenatti, Anonymous, and Doug Mills.