The Year in Photos: What We Saw

Posted on December 19, 2011


The following selection of photos from 2011 was pulled from the weekly reviews of imagery in the U.S. media for La Lettre de la Photographie. (Go there today for the complete portfolio.) Looking back can be an enlightening exercise, but choosing from among all the photographs published this year was difficult. In the end, this collection represents a personal viewpoint that nonetheless covers many of the big events of 2011—and some little ones as well.


1. Arab Spring, Part 1 Photo by Hani Mohammed/AP

The great visual cliché of the Arab Spring uprising—angry demonstrators in crowded streets, fists raised for photoournalists’s lenses—is on full view here. But the dynamism and fierce expression of the Yemini boy photographed during a demonstration in Sana gave Hani Mohammed’s picture iconic stature.


2. Arab Spring, Part 2 Photo by Chris Hondros

The tremor began in Tunisia and soon the entire Arab world began to shake. After Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt with surprising rapidity, Libyans rose up against their leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But the campaign to oust the Qaddafi proved to be long and fierce. Nowhere was it more intense than the house-to-house fighting that took place in the city of Misurata. On April 20, photojournalist Chris Hondros photographed a rebel fighter pursuing government troops through a burning building in Misurata. Later that day, Hondros and photojournalist Tim Hetherington were killed covering the battle.


3. Land of the Tsunami Photo from Reuters/Mainichi Shimbum

On March 11, an offshore 8.9-magnitude earthquake in the Pacific Ocean launched a tsunami that crashed over Japan’s northern coast. Few photographs of the actual tsunami wave effectively captured its size and power. This image did just that by showing what was happening in Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture as disaster approached.


4. Tornado Alley Photo by Edward Keating

On May 22, a massive tornado took shape and bore down on the city of Joplin, Missouri, killing 161, making it the single deadliest tornado since modern record keeping began in 1950, according to NOAA. Many others, like this couple, were left homeless.


5. Death of Osama bin Laden Photo by Pete Souza/The White House

On May 1, President Barack Obama and senior staff gathered in the White House basement Situation Room to keep a real-time vigil as Navy Seals dropped into Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. White House photographer Pete Souza documented the scene. (A classified document in front of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was blurred out before the photo’s release.) Many thought Clinton was expressing shock at something she was seeing at the time—presumably the killing of Bin Laden—but she later said she was merely fighting back an allergic sneeze. The image will endure as a piece of White House history.


6. Gbagbo’s Unmasking Photo from AFP/Getty Images


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo lost an election but refused to give up power—a perfect recipe for bloody civil war. Months of violence came to an end with Gbagbo’s capture at his residence in April. Seen here with his wife, Gbagbo’s appearance confounded expectations—we finally saw not the cruel warlord in chains, but a vulnerable old man sitting on the foot of his bed, unmasked.


7. The Euro Crisis Photo by Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP

With debt-ridden Greece perched on the edge of default, the country’s government imposed austerity measures, which didn’t go over well. Greece’s largest labor union responded with a strike and violent street demonstrations became common. This banner read, “Yes to the Society, No to the Power.”


 8. Moment of Impact Photo by Ward Howes/AP

At an air show in Reno, Nevada, a vintage World War II fighter plane crashed during a race, killing the 74-year-old pilot and 10 spectators. This was the moment of impact.


9. The Presidency, Part 1 Photographer: Unknown

It isn’t much of a photograph, but it managed to quiet Donald Trump—no easy feat—for a while, at least. In April the White House released this image of Barack Obama’s birth certificate from a hospital in Hawaii, putting an end to the question of whether he was born in the United States, as the Constitution requires of the president. Trump, who had been vocalizing about the “birther” issue as part of a possible presidential bid, faded instantly to the cultural background, a place he hates to be.


10. The Presidency, Part 2 Photo by Damon Winter

Early in 2011 the big talk in the Republican Party was not Mitt Romney’s hair, Michele Bachmann’s knowledge of history, Rick Perry’s hunting lodge, or Newt Gingrich’s Greek cruise—it was Sarah Palin, the GOP’s most glamorous star. Over Memorial Day, Palin, who had not yet ruled out a run for the presidency, launched an East Coast bus tour at the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally in Washington, D.C. “I love the smell of emissions,” she told FOX News.


`11. Love, American Style, Part 1 Photo by Brian Prahl/Splash News

Photographer Brian Prahl snapped the celebrity photo of the year (in my humble opinion). Kim Kardashian (are there any other celebrities beside her anymore?) was vacationing in Mexicao with her boyfriend, pro basketball player Kris Humphries, when Prahl got this shot. The images rapidly spread across the Internet, prompting In Touch magazine to report rumors that Kim’s “larger-than-ever-backside” was the result of a “super-sized butt implant.” Kardashian later debunked the claim by having here rear-end X-rayed on her television show.


12. Love, American Style Part 2 Wedding Photos by Michael Simon; Albert Ferreira/Startracks; Nick Saglimbeni

As for Humphries, he ended up marrying Kardashian in the year’s second-biggest wedding. People magazine paid $1.5 million for the exclusive rights to the wedding photos. The marriage lasted 72 days. You do the math.


13. Love, Canadian Style Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Rich Lam’s shot of lovers embracing in the midst of angry Canadian hockey fans became an instant classic the moment it went viral. After the Vancouver Canucks lost the decisive Game 7 of a thrilling Stanley Cup championship series, the team’s fans went from avid to rabid, taking to Vancouver’s streets to loot stores and set cars afire. The anonymous couple inadvertently captured by freelancer Lam didn’t remain anonymous for long: They were soon identified by relatives and within days Scott Jones and Alex Thomas were being interview of morning television news shows.


14. Love, Royal Style Photo from AP

The biggest wedding of the year was the royal one, of course, uniting Britain’s Prince of Wales with Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge. The best picture of the wedding was this one, in which Prince William’s three-year-old goddaughter, Grace van Cutsem, reacts to the noise of the crowd at Buckingham Palace.


15. Natural Acts, Part 1 Photo by Frans Lanting

This astonishing photograph is indeed a photograph. Frans Lanting shot it at Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park—the painterly effect, he said, came from the lighting conditions at dawn: “The warm light of the morning sun was illuminating a huge red sand dune dotted with white grasses while the floor of the clay pan was still in shade. It only looks blue because it reflects the color of the sky above.”


16. Natural Acts, Part 2 Photo from AP

In July, forest guards confronted a leopard that had wandered into a village near Silugara, India. This was the outcome. The leopard, which had mauled several villagers, suffered injuries during the attack and later died. The man being attack in the photo survived.


18. The Occupiers Photo by Louise Macabitas

Lt. John Pike, a member of the campus police of the University of California, Davis, became an Internet meme, and the first true icon of the “Occupy” protest movement, when he was photographed casually pepper-spraying students at a peaceful rally on November 18.