In reading New York Magazine’s annual column on reasons to love the city, I couldn’t help but feel inspired and proud of New York, and I realized that I had so many similar feelings about photography. So many wonderful, inspiring, and exciting things happened this year in photography, that I can only feel great about what will come next. So in no particular order…
1. Instagram Became a Hit
Sure, Instagram has been around since 2010, but it really took off this past year with the hype surrounding its acquisition by Facebook and the release of a non-iOS version, which brought it to millions of more people. Art filters aside, it cemented itself as the distribution platform of choice for the visually inclined’s stream of consciousness, as well as attracted professional photographers, social commentators, children, and many more.
2. iPhonography Hit Its Stride
Magazine covers shot with an iPhone. Books published with iPhone photos. And why not? The resolution and dynamic range of the newest mobile phone cameras far surpasses the $5k DSLRs from 10 years ago. Ben Lowy made the cover of TIME with his iPhone, and Brad Mangin got a book deal for his images of Major League Baseball.
3. Iwan Baan Flew Above the Storm
Maybe it’s more meaningful to those who lived through it, but Iwan Baan’s aerial view of Manhattan half plunged into darkness so effectively captured the disparity between those with power and those without. It was a microcosmic view of how short a distance you needed to travel to find the destruction that Super Storm Sandy wreaked onto the Northeast. More significantly, he admits that advances in sensor sensitivity helped him make an image that couldn’t have been produced even a few years ago.
4. Full-frame Point and Shoots Arrive
At $2,798, it’s not quite a consumer level camera, but it is an exciting turn of events for 1) early adopters, or 2) those unwilling to drop $8k on a Leica. The Sony RX1 is a full-frame, fixed focal length camera with the same 24.3MP sensor that’s in their flagship A99 camera.
5. Space, the Final Frontier Gets the Attention It Deserves
Astronaut Don Pettit had a mere 10 cameras in the International Space Station where he took iconic star trail photos with a gerryrigged contraption made of spare parts. Other photos he took were stitched together into movies by fans of astrophotography.
On the Red Planet, Mars Curiosity beamed back high resolutions of a Martian landscape that looked a lot like….California. And we really dig its self-portrait. You are following @marscuriosity on Instagram, right?
6. We’re Still Finding Cool, Old Photos
You’re walking around a flea market and all of a sudden you find a stack of images of someone who looks a lot like Mick Jagger? Or maybe you’re going through old boxes at the library and open a box of stuff that looks a bit like Ansel Adams? Yeah, that’s modern day photographic treasure hunters.
7. Front Pages Still Shock
In an over-stimulated world, it’s a wonder that an image of anything could still shock us, but this year gave us two front pages that raised eyebrows.
8. A Photo of the President Became the Most Retweeted and “Liked” Ever
Irrespective of your political persuasion, you have to take a certain pride in the fact that an image of our president became the most retweeted and Facebook “liked” image ever. Brooklyn-based Scout Tufankjian covered then Senator Obama campaign in 2008, and continues to periodically cover politics for Polaris. This image was taken during the 2012 campaign in August, and was posted online when Obama won the election. Oh, what’s that? David Burnett got the reverse angle?
9. Video Is Cool, But Stills Still Got It
We’re not going to pretend the ever increasing capabilities of videography aren’t an amazing development, but let’s face it – sometimes the still tells the story better. At the Olympics, video does so well do capture action, but the still image is more effective at capturing emotion. But don’t take our word for it…
McKayla Maroney struck her “not impressed” face more than once at the Olympics. Ronald Martinez caught this iconic version on the medal stand.
Hannah Johnston captured the gut-wrenching tears of South Korean fencer Shin A-Lam who protested a controversial loss in a semi-final match on stage for 75 minutes.
How fast is Bolt? Christophe Ena’s finish line photo shows how enormous Usain Bolt’s lead is going into the finals of the men’s 100m dash.
10. The Photo Meme Remained Alive and Well
Ever since Oxford professor Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to describe a cultural unit, the snarksters on the Internet have been trying to outdo themselves by combining images with witty and not-so-witty text. Social media has only served to fan the flames, but every once in a while, a pretty good one comes by.
Will King’s photo of Zeddie Little quickly became known as the “ridiculously photogenic guy,” and really, we’ve seen a lot of photos and the dude is very photogenic (please excuse the swear words).
And then, of course, Ronald Martinez’s image was (mis)appropriated into not just a meme, but an entire website. She’s not impressed.
Like last year’s “Texts from Hillary” meme, which used Diana Walker’s photo, one meme finally jumped the shark when McKayla did a “not impressed” duet with President Obama in yet another great photo by Pete Souza.
11. Dads Proved To Be Awfully Creative
Wedding photographer Jason Lee started it: when his mother became ill with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, he wasn’t able to bring his daughters around to see her as often as he would have liked due to their frequent colds. So he created a set of whimsical photos that went crazy viral.
Then Dave Engledow got into the act with a series of images called “World’s Best Father.”
12. The “Uneducated” Took Pretty Good Photos
Let’s be honest, taking photos isn’t rocket science. That isn’t to say that there isn’t skill and creativity involved, but having a degree in photography doesn’t translate into instant success. And quite to the contrary, many self-taught photographers do pretty well for themselves.
The only controversy Tierney Gearon will have with her images from The New York Times Magazine Hollywood Issue will be whether the images are deemed great or really great. We love this one of Quvenzhané Wallace from the magnificent Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Here’s another one – we’ve had a crush on Alex Prager for a while, but she keeps blowing up. This time a bit more literally with her newest film/exhibit entitled “Compulsion,” with a witty take on la petit mort, if you know what we mean.
13. Retouchers Were Funny
14. There Was the Rise of the (Olympic) Machines
How do you get the shots where no man/woman can go? Make the robots do it. But if it asks you if you’re Sarah Connor, run away.
So did AP.
15. Photographers Cared For One Another
It’s not the first time the community has been rallied to help one of their own, but when Super Storm Sandy ransacked the home of legendary sports photographer Al Bello, photographers from around the country and the world banded together to make donations small and large to get him back on his feet. Perhaps it’s just karma for a good guy who has been so giving to the industry for years. And he deserves it when people from Manny Paquiao’s entourage are trying to beat him up.
16. You Still Hustled to Get the Shot
Luke MacGregor had an image in his mind of using the moon as a sixth Olympic ring, and it only took him 3 days to get it.
And then there’s this guy:
17. Photo Contests Produced Amazing Work
We’re sometimes skeptical of some photo contests that are nothing more than rights grabs or revenue generators. On the other hand, we’re blown away by the quality of images that rolls through on a regular basis.
Masahiro Miyasaka won Astronomy Photographer of the Year accolades for his awesome frozen waterfall lit beneath the stars.
And holy lightning, Batman. We’ve got to see these as large scale prints in person in London. Spectacular storm photography won Mitch Dobrowner the L’Iris d’Or – the 2012 Sony World Photography Award Photographer of the Year.
18. NASA Published a Free Photo Book
Yes, tax payer dollars fund NASA. Yes, these images are in the public domain. But someone still has to edit and compile them, and now you have a free e-Book entitled “Earth as Art.” You’re welcome.
19. Steve McCurry Photographed the Pirelli Calendar?!?
The Pirelli Calendar has historically been a potpourri of naked beauties, but when you call Steve “Afghan Girl” McCurry for the job, he does it his way. And we’re fine with that.
20. Your Grandparents Went Viral
People are living longer. That means you better start finding ways to keep them occupied. Sasha Goldberg turned his grandma into a super hero.
And Liu Xianping dressed up as a teenage girl for his granddaughter’s clothing company in China.
21. Personal Projects Led to Commercial Gigs
What is the value of personal projects? Ask Tim MacPherson, who parlayed images of kids playing make believe in their homes into numerous commercial assignments.
22. Shot a Portrait, But Not the Bird
Florida-based Bob Croslin has been bringing injured birds to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary for many years, and he decided to donate his photographic skills to highlight the plight of his avian friends. The result? Surprisingly intimate portraits.
23. Photos of The Space Shuttle (Going Through LA) Were Cool
Los Angeles sees its fair share of weird stuff, but the sight of the Space Shuttle Endeavor being towed through the city was enough to bring tears to people’s eyes. The Los Angeles Times was on hand to cover the event, and Wally Skalij nailed a photo of oblivious teens shooting hoops as the shuttle rolled past their front door.
24. Corey Rich Was Nuts
Whatever it takes to get the shot, Corey.
What does it take to get that shot, anyway? Just a mere 125 pieces of equipment.
25. Dear Photograph Still Made Us Cry
26. Dave Burnett Still Shot Film
While all you young whipper snappers are using your 14fps cameras to catch the world’s fastest man barrel by at record setting speeds, legendary photojournalist Dave Burnett was loading 4×5 film. Why? Because he already got one of the top sports photos ever in 1984. The Star Tribune‘s Brian Peterson caught Burnett at the decisive moment of changing film.
And he gives a pretty good speech too.
27. Wacky Photo Accessories Were Invented for Your iPhone
If you thought the iPhone was all about being as sleek as possible, you’re sorely mistaken.
Get your iPhone Paparazzo flash.
28. Gordon Parks’ Civil Rights Images Were Stunning In Color
On James Estrin’s excellent LENS blog, he featured recently discovered color transparencies of Parks’ work from the Civil Rights movement. An incredibly important document by one of history’s finest photographers like this one of a mother and child at the “Colored Entrance.”
29. We Still Dreamed About That Leica
In case you couldn’t think of anything to do with that $50,000 under your mattress, Leica paired up with Hermès to come up with the most luxurious camera ever.
30. People Still Tried to Make Polaroids
Yeah, yeah, you already know about the Impossible Project, but do you know about the New55 Project that is trying to develop 4×5 instant film again? This image by Jason Edwards on some of their Shanghai formulation might convince you to dust off the large format camera. We need some, (in)stat(ly).
31. A Few Months Wasn’t Long Enough for a Photo Project
Frans Hofmeester photographed his daughter every week from birth to age 12.
And Noah Kalina did the same thing, every day for 12 years!
32. The Pulitzer Still Meant Something
As the years go by, it’s very difficult to maintain topical relevance in any field. And if you still think of the Pulitzer for Feature Photography as an anachronism of the days when LIFE magazine dominated, you haven’t been watching the stellar work of the past several years.
This year’s winner, Craig Walker of the Denver Post, is no exception. His essay on Iraq War veteran Brian Ostrom brings the terror and destruction of PTSD to life.
33. More People Still Took More Photos Than Ever
34. Peter Yang Was Hilarious
35. Ephemeral Snowflakes Turned Out To Be Gosh Darn Beautiful
They say no two snowflakes are alike, and after seeing Andrew Osokin’s images, we’re glad they’re not. More sir, I want some more!
36. They Developed a Camera That Can See Your Zits BEFORE They Appear
Good, because now we know when to order Proactiv.
37. Time Lapse Photography Still Blew Us Away Every Time
38. The NYPD Got It Right
Everyone is a photographer, and thank God. Arizona tourist Jennifer Foster captured a random act of kindness as NYPD Officer Lawrence DePrimo used his own money to buy a homeless man a pair of shoes. The story in and of itself is amazing, but the photo makes it all the more tangible.
39. Naughty Nurse Costumes Are Out
It used to take skin to win at Halloween, but that’s soooo last year! Why not be a human Instagram instead? Eric Micotto rigged up a Nikon D800 to an iPad to make a real-life Instagram.
40. Lomography Made a New Medium Format Camera
Yeah, yeah, you have an old Hasselblad in the corner that you’re not using. But does it have a bellows? Didn’t think so. You’ll definitely need one of these bad boys.
41. Natsumi Hayashi Made a Book
People who levitate definitely need their own books.
Another case in point, former PhotoShelter blogger and awesome photographer, Rachel Hulin. Pre-order Flying Henry.
42. Two Women Received Macarthur Genius Grants for Photography
In an industry historically dominated by men, it’s fantastic to see two very different artists receive Genius recognition that doesn’t require a trip to the Apple Store.
43. Focus Peaking is Here (and Coming Soon)
With all the advances in auto-focus, it’s amazing how many out-of-focus shots we still get. Enter “focus peaking” which can display which parts of the image are in focus. Already available on some Sony, Canon, and Pentax cameras.
44. Five Friends Took the Same Photo for 30 Years
A lot of people have longitudinal photo projects in mind, but it takes a lot of gumption to actually see it through, especially when you’re not a professional photographer. Not to say that these images are professional, but they sure are fun.
45. What Has Two Thumbs and Likes “Blow Job”? Tadao Cern.
He wasn’t the first person to do it, but he might have been the first person to use a leaf blower. Get blown away.
46. Alejandro Cartagena’s Won an Award for His Car Poolers
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about birds-eye photos. Perhaps it’s just the irregular perspective of seemingly normal life. Whatever the case may be, Alejandro Cartagena’s images of Mexican laborers in the back of pick-up trucks really caught our eye, and APhotoEditor’s Rob Haggart pinned him down for an interview.
47. Shinichi Maruyama’s Abstract Nudes Mesmerized
Shinichi Maruyama owns the abstract photo world. We already loved him for his Gardens series, and these are just as enticing. How’d he do it? By compositing 10,000 photos into one. Oh good, now we can start taking SFW selfies.
48. The Animated GIF Portrait Came Back
There was a moment in the late 90s, when the animated GIF stopped being cool. But that was only owing to the lack of imagination of the GenXers who had been entrusted with the GIF. Fast forward a mere decade, and Erik Sanchez has resurrected the art form for another day in the sun.
49. Jody Quon and Kathy Ryan Rocked It
Yeah, we’re in New York and they’re in New York. And both their publications have New York in the name. But so what. They consistently produce some of the best photography, period.
50. ESPN’s Body Issue is a…Masterpiece?
The zenith of swimsuit photography must have coincided with Sports Illustrated and the real crop of supermodels in the late 80s and early 90s. Nowadays, it all seems a bit passé, but ESPN has picked up the ball with athletes in their Body Issue. And really, this image by Francesco Carrozzini is a masterpiece.
51. Photos Were Beautiful As Music
Even with a macro lens, we have no idea how these were shot, but when we saw them, we heard music falling from the heavens. Kudos to photographer Bjorn Ewers and the Berlin Philharmonic for such an exciting ad campaign.
52. Chris Buck’s Weird Celebrity Portrait Book Was Without Celebrities
Take a well-known celebrity photographer. Pair him with celebrities in choice locations with amazing composition and lighting. Then remove the celebrity. What do you have? Chris Buck’s Presence, complete with signed not-affadavits attesting that the celebrity was adjacent to the shot. Good enough for us. Give Presence as Presents.
53. A 16-year old Runaway Was Mind Blowingly Awesome
“very soon after my sixteenth birthday, stirred on by lovesickness, i took my mother’s credit card from her purse in the middle of the night and booked a flight to melbourne (where matt was now living). i flew out the next day and my new life began.”
“we were inseparable from that day forth. that first week surpassing any of my most romantic daydreams- but that story is for another post. being homeless we slept wherever we could, mostly strangers houses, train stations and airports when we were in-between countries. in our gypsy times we have travelled france, italy, indonesia, new zealand, america, india & vietnam.
“i won one international and two national photography awards. i used my winnings to buy equipment, flights and to pay for the bond for our first apartment. i became the youngest fashion photographer signed to an agency.”
Yeah, you want more.
54. We Loved Skydiving Photos…
Were you as riveted as were when Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a capsule 24 miles above the earth and broke the sound barrier with a little parachute on his back? Jay Nemeth set up multiple remote cameras to capture some pretty stellar images of the STRATOS project.
55. …and Fireflies, Too
56. Someone Found The Best Client Brief Ever
57. The Best Photos Were Still the Most Personal
Photographs by other of people you don’t know and places you’ve never been can transport you into another pair of shoes. The images can inform or inspire. But the real reason people take photos themselves is because it creates a connection to a moment in time – some of which are trivial and some of which are milestones etched in our souls for a lifetime.
On Thursday last week, my friend and one of my first employees, Sara Gardner Montrey, died at age 35 from colon cancer. I was fortunate enough to visit her a few days before her passing, and as we lay in her bed talking, her friend Jennifer grabbed my camera and shot this frame of us.
The image, of course, will be meaningless to you. But it will forever be a reminder to me of the value of friendship, and the fleeting and unpredictable nature of life. The photo isn’t a proxy for Sara, but it will be a vivid reminder of our last day together for many years to come.