Review 2021: National Geographic highlights some powerful images captured over the past year

How will we remember 2021?

Originally hailed as a shield for its odious predecessor, this year has finally carried the torch of 2020. Its perils, along with optimism, have been documented for more than 1 year. ,9 million images that National Geographic added to its archive in 2021.

The magazine’s second issue of the Year highlights only 50, a memorable handful that embody this year’s turmoil, heartbreak, determination, and hope.

Whitney Johnson, National Geographic’s Director of Images and Immersive Experiences, sat down with KABC curator Marc Brown to discuss how these photos were selected and what she hopes they evoke.

She says her team not only pulls out single powerful images, but compiles a collection that tells a cohesive story.

“We all ended 2020 with a lot of optimism and hope into 2021, and I think we’ve come through 2021 feeling like a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs. In our issue, we try to capture all of that and recreate the feeling of the highs and lows that we’ve all felt,” she said.

She also shares some selected photos and explains how they fit into the four key themes that define the year: COVID-19, climate, conflict and conservation.


DC’s COVID-19 Memorial (Stephen Wilkes)


Johnson first chose to feature artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s “In America: Remember,” a temporary installation in memory of Americans who have died of COVID-19.

In September, Firstenberg planted more than 600,000 white flags on the National Mall in Washington, each representing a life lost to the pandemic. In the time since, the number of US COVID-19 deaths has reached 800,000.

Photographer Stephan Wilkes captured this image by standing on a scissor lift about 50 feet from the installation site for about 30 hours, taking thousands of photos from the same vantage point, Johnson said. He stitched them together to create a single frame.

“What you see is a photograph that really takes you through time to be able to capture this very epic moment. For me, I love finding those little narrative moments that are happening in the photograph.” she said.

These moments include families strolling among the flags, individuals writing notes to loved ones, and Firstenberg herself, seen wearing her iconic brim hat.

Mass graves in North Jakarta (Muhammad Fadli)


Muhammad Fadli, who documents the coronavirus crisis in Indonesia, captured a family visiting the grave of a COVID-19 victim at Rorotan Public Cemetery in Cilincing, North Jakarta.

Like the composite statue of Wilkes’ Washington Monument, Fadli’s image shows the scale of the pandemic, Johnson said.

The background of the photo shows a mass burial site with more than 7,200 graves along with several excavator trucks working to add more. In the foreground, however, family members are seen pouring rose water over a freshly dug grave.

“This photo has rich closeness… It can be really difficult when we see these [COVID] Johnson said.


California’s Dixie Fire (Lynsey Addario)


National Geographic photographer Lindsey Addario has spent the year documenting the effects of climate change around the world, especially how it affects women and children.

Addario spends time with female firefighters in California. In recent years, the region has seen an increase in the frequency and scale of wildfires, a phenomenon caused by climate change.

Johnson’s chosen photo of a firefighter battling the Dixie Fire, the second-largest wildfire in state history, burned more than 1,500 square miles. Then, when Addario describes the experience, you can “really feel the tension in her voice,” says Johnson.

“It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by what the firefighters are up against,” Johnson said. “It’s hard not to feel like it was a futile effort when you see that little teenage firefighter just leaning against that firewall.”

Drought in Ethiopia


As part of a climate project, Addario traveled to Ethiopia, which has experienced a devastating drought for several years.

The camel breeders that Addario captures in this chosen photo have been on foot for 12 days in search of better water for their pastures, a project that was ultimately unsuccessful. This photo was taken after they returned as the herders drew water from a well near their home.

Johnson says the picture portrays their struggles.

“It helps show that these climate problems are affecting so many of us around the world. It’s hard – impossible – to ignore that climate change is here and it is affecting us,” she said. affects so many of us.”


Riots in the US Capitol (Mel D. Cole)


Mel D. Cole, who started out as a music photographer, recently ventured into photojournalism.

He has covered protests across the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, but as a Black photographer in this sea of ​​white faces, January 6, 2021, is the “day of terror.” best for him ever,” he told Johnson.

“He said he saw that this was the new American Dream unfolding in front of him,” Johnson said.

Cole’s photo shows rioters surrounding Metropolitan Police Michael Fanone, who later testified before Congress that he was “caught, beaten, Tased, all the while being called a traitor betray my country” during the uprising.

Johnson said it captured the chaos, violence and tension all Americans feel present. And when you see dozens of faces in the frame, “you can’t run away from the fact that these are the people doing the action,” she said.

“Maybe it comes to the house more. For us, I think it’s just the large number of people that we see, more of them as individuals … and then there’s a lot of details that we don’t see. you can see it’s just related to what people are wearing, the badges on their hats, and really the anger and violence that I think is showing in the expressions of a lot of people in that frame. ,” she said.

The Afghan Woman (Kiana Hayeri)


Johnson’s chosen image shows Hafiza, a 70-year-old Afghan woman with sons who has sided with both sides of the conflict in the region: Two of them fought with the Afghan National Army, one with militias and one with the Taliban.

“It helps us really understand how conflict has torn families apart, and you can see it in her face,” Johnson said.

It was taken by Kiana Hayeri, an Iranian-Canadian photographer who has lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, for seven years.

National Geographic commissioned Hayeri to work on an extensive story about the country ahead of the 20th anniversary of the US occupation, a project she describes as “a love letter to Afghanistan,” Johnson said.

But when she had to evacuate her home amid the US withdrawal and the Taliban takeover, “it became her goodbye letter.”

“It’s interesting to feel the personal side of this story, for someone this is not a journalist who parachuted into this country. This is a journalist who has lived there and really understands. what’s happening across the country and really can Johnson say.


Gentoo Penguins in Antarctica (Thomas Peschak)


Thomas Peschak’s photo showing a colony of Gentoo penguins nesting on an old whale’s vertebra depicts a climate success story.

On the continent, winter temperatures have risen by 11 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950, but Gentoo penguins have found a way to thrive.

“Their global population has increased sixfold since the 1980s, so we would consider this a success story,” Johnson said.

Stonehenge (Reuben Wu)


In reviewing this category, National Geographic not only delves into the conservation of species, but also emphasizes the preservation of culture.

“Around the world, cultural sites [are] Johnson said.

In September, conservationists worked to stabilize and protect Stonehenge, built some 5,000 years ago in southern England.

While the historic landmark has been the subject of thousands of photos, photographer Reuben Wu has refreshed the composition, using a similar approach to Wilkes’ COVID-19 memorial project.

Using drones for lighting, Wu took several photos over a 30-minute period and stitched them together into one frame.

See more memorable photos captured this year in January’s Photo of the Year magazine and at

Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. Copyright Registered. Review 2021: National Geographic highlights some powerful images captured over the past year

Dais Johnston

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