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Powerful photography continues to hold its worth in 2020. Even with the rise of video, photography has maintained its grip on showing society the world’s most meaningful moments. We’ve certainly needed the still frame this calendar year. Whether it’s the global pandemic, the protests that began after the murder of George Floyd, the explosion in Beirut, or the recent US Election, photography has come into its own as it helps keep a document of the most memorable year of our generation. All those circumstances are painfully sad, but they are further evidence that powerful photography still has a place in our world.
Powerful Photography in 2020
As a leading US photography publication, we’re flooded with submissions year after year. Especially this year, where it seemed everyone wanted to pick up a camera, looking to create some powerful photography. Some did it for their personal records, and others for their personal gain. Thankfully, many made photographs to help shape the truth of what was happening worldwide in 2020.
When the protests broke out in Portland, sections of the photo community criticized us for our coverage. Some found it important to tell us that we were picking sides and showing bias. The same is true when we highlighted similar protests that occurred across the pond in the UK. The accusation of bias couldn’t be further from the truth. The only side we took was the side of photography. Hardworking photographers like Matt Lawrence, JD Barnes, and Christian Cross took to the streets to document what was going on in their respective areas. We gave them a platform to show their results.
The images speak for themselves, showing the destruction on both sides, exploring all narratives of the broader story. The pureness of photography highlights why photographs are so powerful. Photographs don’t care about your agenda or your political alliances. When created ethically and without manipulation, they only care about the truth. Our mini-series, Photographing Portland, did just that: it told the truth.
Powerful Photography During COVID-19
When whispers of a deadly virus started spilling out of China, few of us predicted just how destructive it would be. At the time of writing this, 1.5 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19. Because of the seriousness, it put most of the world into lockdown. The modern era has never seen anything like this. And hopefully, it will never have to experience it again.
In the distant future, this may be a story people find hard to believe. The idea of people stuck in their own home or walking the streets with masks. Thankfully, photography is again on hand, as photographers ran to the streets or photographed from their homes to make a record of what society was like during this unforgettable time.
Photography Shows the Positives
The more positive side of people making photos is, despite all the suffering, photography ensures we don’t reflect on this time as solely negative. The reality is that many positives came from the pandemic. It highlighted how humans can adapt and how we’re able to maintain a form of sanity even when pushed to our limits.
Two examples of our strength are projects put together by Brooklyn based photographer Josh Katz, and India-based photographer Madhu Gopal Rao. Both photographers captured how people live their lives from the rooftops of their apartment blocks while unable to leave their homes. In the images, you see togetherness, creativity, activity, and a whole host of human actions that will one day make us realize maybe it wasn’t so bad in 2020.
But aside from just documenting the truth, we were also able to see the broad beauty of powerful photography. The pandemic encouraged photographers to think outside the box. It inspired them to find new ways of working or pick up personal projects they had been keeping on the creative shelf for far too long. It also encouraged newbie photographers to perfect their skills and find ways that photography can keep them motivated while stuck at home – that’s powerful.
Uniting the World
While society will never be fully united, it would be nice if the divide was much smaller than it feels right now. Right-wing or left-wing, pro-lockdown or anti-lockdown, for protests or against protests, it seems we’re always dealing with the extremes of a spectrum. As highlighted in the very successful Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, most people are forming their thoughts and feelings from manipulated data that doesn’t always fall in line with the truth.
But with powerful photography, the truth is difficult to manipulate. It should serve society as a means of education and access to a deeper understanding of world events. Maybe in time, photographs from recent years (especially 2020) will teach us that the world wasn’t so bad, and the people were not as divided as we thought.
Whatever the outcomes are, what will remain is that powerful photography served its purpose. To be a memory of all the experiences humanity has and to show us the reality of what is going on in our world – no matter if it’s good or bad.
Lead image by Matt Lawrence