I realized today that it is over two weeks into the New Year, and I have not discussed any of the “Best Photographs of 2015” lists – and there are a lot of them. The problem is that 2015 was filled with so much human misery that one feels superficial if you like and make a big deal over any of the happy ones. That said I am going to begin with something glorious, ringing in the New Year with London’s Big Ben. Is this a celebration of what is possible in 2016 or a celebration of the passing of 2015? Still we are told that there will ever be an England – and there is some solace in that.
I was pleased to see in some of these lists some of the images that I have discussed previously. Nilufer Demir / DHA / Reuters photograph from this past September of a Turkish police officer cradling the body of drowned migrant child Aylan Kurdi is there, as is both NASA’s photograph of the discovery of water on Mars and photographs of a starving child in Syria. These images represent the two extremes of human endeavor. But the spectrum is much more complex.The CBS News website has a set of “Best of 2015 Photographs” that prodigiously comes in at 101. It is as if they have avoided the difficult choice. I think that Philippe Wojazer of Reuters image of Parisians observing a moment of silence at the Trocadero in front the Eiffel Tower in tribute to the victims of the attacks of Paris, Nov. 16 is a poignant reminder of 2015’s end. France will always stand as well. And this seemingly simpole photograph is an image for the ages.
There is Drew Angerer of Getty Images’ photograph of same-sex marriage supporter Ryan Aquilina protesting in front of the US Supreme Court on April 28. And then there is a disturbingly gorgeous but apocalyptic image from September 8 by Suhaib Salem of Reuters, showing a Palestinian boy sleeps on a mattress inside the remains of his family’s house, which was destroyed by shelling during the 50-day 2014 war in Gaza. This dichotomy of the beautiful mixed with the terrible is also to be found in the stunningly haunting image by Aris Messinis for AFP/Getty Images showing Syrian refugees covered with life blankets upon arriving to the Greek island of Lesbos.
On a lighter side there is Johannes Eisele of the AFP’s image of Pope Francis wearing a bright yellow plastic poncho last January as he waved to well wishers in Tacloban. And finally we have Jacquelyn Martin of the AP’s March 9, 2015 photograph showing President Obama crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the historic civil rights March across that same bridge.
These are all, of course press photographs. They remind us of the complexity of the world and of its possibilities. Maybe the last photograph offers up the hope that the world can change – I do not know.