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“I sometimes think that being photographed by a clicking still camera is infinitely more satisfying to me than shifting about for a whirring moving one,” wrote Tilda Swinton for LightBox in early December. The Academy Award winner was describing her experience being photographed by Peter Hapak in September for TIME, a shoot that yielded images both delicate and intense — not unlike the actor herself.

Finding essence in a single image is a challenge, yet somehow our photographers manage to do it again and again. This year was no exception, as portraits of celebrities, political powerhouses and survivors filled our pages. While each shot displayed the talent of our skilled photographers, TIME’s photo department narrowed the field to select our favorite portraits of the year. From the poised conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi (captured by Platon) to the grief and defiance of Cindy Sheehan, an antiwar activist and the mother of deceased Iraq soldier Casey Sheehan (captured by Marco Grob), to the delighted exuberance of 15-year-old Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld (captured by Hapak), 2011’s best shots spoke volumes about their subjects in the way only portraits can.

After all, as Tilda noted when recounting her luminous shoot, “Still portraits operate their own code.”
—Megan Gibson

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TIME contract photographer Marco Grob shares an intimate look into the making of the portraits and oral history series that comprise Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience.  The project reveals the astonishing testimonies from over 40 men and women including George W. Bush, Tom Brokaw, General David Petraeus, Valerie Plame Wilson, Black Hawk helicopter pilot Tammy Duckworth, as well as the heroic first responders to Ground Zero. After looking into one of America’s greatest tragedies, Grob now shares his side of the story, and what it was like to be on the other side of the lens.

To visit TIME’s Beyond 9/11: A Portrait of Resilience, a project that chronicles 9/11 and its aftermath, click here. TIME: VOICES OF 9/11, a full length film of Grob’s work will be screened at Film Forum, located at 209 West Houston Street, New York, NY 10014. For more information go to their website by clicking here.

See more of Marco Grob’s work by clicking here.

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