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Dec 04, 2021
Photos are magical things. They can capture anger, happiness, even complex geopolitics in a nanosecond, freezing it in time . . . forever. What makes an image iconic, then? A few years back I met Stuart Franklin, the Magnum photographer who has taken some of the most iconic photos in history. Did he know he was documenting history in China in 1989? No. “We didn’t have TV in Beijing, so we didn’t know how big that image had gone,” he told me.
Fast-forward three decades and with every moment now captured by millions of phones, choosing snaps that are likely to stand the test of time is a bit more complex. Here are our picks. You might have seen some of them and missed others. But if we’re right, these images will be talked about in the decades to come. Check out today’s Weekender for a trip down tomorrow’s memory lane.
What other images from the past two years do you think will serve as iconic reminders of our times? Tell us at: OzyCommunity@Ozy.com
— Based on reporting by Josefina Salomon
1 - Hug of Life (World)
The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined our world, lives, bodies and minds. It has also pushed millions of doctors, nurses, cleaners, security and other frontline staff to near breaking point. But it has also sparked innovations that might have appeared dystopian in a different time but have been critical to allowing us to meet our loved ones, even if only across a screen; or feel a healing embrace, even if through layers of plastic curtains.
Every day seems to bring a fresh climate crisis, whether it’s floods in Canada and China or devastating fires in places as far apart as California, southeast Australia and Greece. As writers, even words like “unprecedented” and “irreversible” start sounding horribly routine. But pictures can still cut through that climate change fatigue: Like the image (above) of a desperate, devastated elderly woman standing in front of her home on the Greek island of Evia as orange flames devour everything behind her. “She was looking for her husband,” Kostas Tsakalidis, the photojournalist behind this image, told Bloomberg. “She told me about the hard work they did to this house which was now in danger of being lost in the fire.”
3 - Exodus (Afghanistan)
It was a chaotic finale to a chaotic war. The U.S. marked the end of its longest armed conflict by withdrawing more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan in recent months. Among the thousands of upsetting images of crowds at Kabul’s airport, one shows a man pushing a baby high as an American Marine on the other side of the fence holds his tiny arm. A few days later, U.S. officials said the baby was given medical attention before being reunited with their father. Read more on OZY.
The pandemic has made our worlds smaller. While most office workers turned their living rooms into cubicles, nearly 170 million children were unable to attend school. Girls and boys from every corner of the globe struggled to continue with their studies on laptops, their parents’ mobile phones, and through radio and TV broadcasts. Mardin Ahmadi, a 19-year-old photographer from city of Javanrud in Iran, captured this crisis through the experience of his younger brother. “It is always significant and enchanting for me to record the events happening around me. My brother is restless inside the home but he is cheerful outside,” he told Middle East Eye.
There’s one thing, however, that the pandemic did not manage to halt: police abuses. It also didn’t stop people from taking to the streets to seek justice. In the aftermath of the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020, people around the world defied curfews to demand an end to racial abuse. U.S. photojournalist John Minchillo (who was later violently attacked at the Capitol Hill riots) captured those historic days. “Photojournalism is a very powerful medium. I’m not looking for drama, but to tell an important story,” he told the World Press Photo Foundation after winning an award for the best news photo in 2021.
2 - Bye, Bye Birdie (Mexico-US border)
A record number of people have been trying, and failing, to cross one of the most infamous borders in the world: between the U.S. and Mexico. You know who else is threatened by the wall that stands between the neighbors along sections of their nearly 2,000-mile border? A delicate ecosystem of 1,500 species of plants and animals that need to connect in order to survive. Mexican photographer Alejandro Prieto’s image earlier this year of a lone roadrunner bird staring at the wall represents that tragedy. “I have watched many different animals reach the wall before turning around and heading back," Prieto told the BBC.
While 2021 is seeing more and richer billionaires than ever before, increasing numbers of people are also falling under the poverty line, struggling to survive on less than $2 a day. Portuguese photographer Mario Cruz spent months in the Philippines trying to document this growing wealth gap. He spoke to people living around Manila’s contaminated Pasig River, which was declared biologically dead in the 1990s due to heavy pollution and is now a waste ground. But the shock factor is not what Cruz was after. “I want my photography to raise questions, and I hope those questions turn into a debate, and with some luck that debate can start a change,” he told The Photoblographer.
Not really. Layla Taloo is one of the hundreds of Yazidi women who survived brutal abuse while she was kept as a slave by the Islamic State group in Iraq. As many as 2,900 women were still missing in 2020. Taloo kept a diary during her ordeal and decided to tell her story in the hope it could help others. She posed for American photojournalist Maya Alleruzzo in the same clothes she wore during her captivity. “She kept the clothes to have visual evidence of what she had endured. She wanted justice,” Alleruzzo said.
2 - We, the World’s Women (Latin America)
We won some, we lost some, but what is certain is that we are not keeping quiet. Millions of women across the world have taken to the streets to demand their rights to make free decisions over their bodies. Across largely Catholic Latin America, women adopted green scarves as they demanded their governments legalize abortion, winning the battle in Argentina and Mexico. Itzel Plascencia documented many of the protests, including one where activists camped at a government building in Mexico City. “Protesters were brutally repressed, but even among the tear gas and the violence, they made it clear that the right to choose over our bodies is ours,” she tells OZY.
Megan Rapinoe might be the international face of female soccer and Lionel Messi the king of the sport, but Yvette Saba Sambieni is as much of a trailblazer. The young player is a member of the Gazelles, an all-girl soccer team from Benin in West Africa. Born as part of a campaign to empower young women and end child marriage, a practice still widespread in the country, the Gazelles aim to kick stereotypes away. Olivier Papegnies captured the moment that is as much about soccer as it is about hope. We sure need some of that.
Former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sits down with Carlos Watson to discuss the future. He talks about his career in public service, how he learned to lead from a young age, what it means to be a conservative patriot, why he would consider running for president in 2024 if asked by America's voters...and more!
What are some of your favorite, iconic photos from recent times? Share them with us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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