Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
December 25, 2014

Looking Back on '14 With Compassion and Depth

Capturing spirit and joy in a photos is not difficult. Finding spirit and dignity in the fabric of adversity is a lot more challenging. I’ve been continually moved this year by imagery that took difficult situations and found a deeper human element, either through compassion, creativity, pragmatism or simply a less stereotyped view. Call this my “goodwill list.” I’m happy to offer it today, December 25th:

The caption of the photo above reads:

A girl sits next to a monk as he prays by the sea at a gathering area for relatives of the missing passengers of the Sewol ferry in Jindo harbor, South Korea, April 21, 2014. Prosecutors detained four more crew members from the ferry Monday, as they raced to unravel the mysteries surrounding its sinking, which left more than 300 people dead or missing.

I have to admit, Uriel Sinai’s photo for the NYT partly appealed to me, today at least, because it’s that far from the story of the three wise men. More so, however, it offers a grace and silence that is rare to see in the face of loss.

The caption of the photo, ostensibly dealing with Ebola, reads:

Aug. 19, 2014. Residents of the town of Kailahun, Sierra Leone gather along a river at dusk.

With so much imagery about the crisis showing Africans in deep affliction or utter despair, what’s so dignifying about Pete Muller’s photo for The Washington Post, beyond its beauty, is its sense of normality.

This photo is part of a Ferguson photo essay Zun Lee did for MSNBC. The caption reads:

Spoken word poet and activist, Marcellus Buckley, 22, during a nightly vigil in front of Ferguson Police Dept. on Oct. 9, 2014.

I admire the portrait because Buckley’s expression defies any typical reading or generalization. We can’t use the events in Ferguson to type him or define him — as it should be. Instead, he exudes a sense of vision and intent.

I continuously marvel over how much the meaning or effect of a photo will shift with time. Andrew Burton captured this image for Getty about six months ago. The caption read:

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio speaks at the 2014 graduation ceremony for the New York Police Department (NYPD) on June 30, 2014 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The NYPD, which has over 35,000 officers, graduated 604 new officers today.

The photo was graphically striking last summer and impressive also for conveying the new Mayor’s authority. After the killing of two police officers this past week, however, entwined with the controversy over racial violence, the photo is absolutely stunning in light of withering attacks on the Mayor’s objectivity.

I was struck by Marcus Yam’s triple exposures for The Seattle Times when I saw them last January. If you read the article, you’ll see other images as well as his notebooks detailing the project. (This story also provides more context.) In the exposures, Yam is creating a complex dialogue using themes and tensions in this dynamic city. If this image, titled “Disparity,” feels “Christmas-y,” it’s actually made up of elements that capture the effects of gentrification.

I’m hopeful for just as much depth, complexity and spirit in a visual 2015.  In the meantime, I wish you a peaceful and thoughtful holiday season.

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