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A little shy of a year ago—with the world’s attention focused on a change of power in North Korea—a photo of Kim Jung Il’s funeral, released by KCNA (North Korean Central News Agency), sparked controversy.  The image had been manipulated—less for overt political ends, more for visual harmony. The photo’s offending elements, photoshopped from the image, were not political adversaries or top secret information, but a group of photographers who had disturbed the aesthetic order of the highly orchestrated and meticulously planned occasion.

KCNA/Reuters

Dec. 28, 2011. A limousine carrying a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leads his funeral procession in Pyongyang.

In an age where seemingly every occasion is documented through photography from every conceivable angle—an estimated 380 billion photographs will be taken this year alone—it’s not only North Korean bureaucrats who are wrestling to keep hoards of other photographers out of their pictures.

Photographers frequently appear in news photographs made by others. Banks of cameras greet celebrities and public figures at every event; cell phones held high by admirers become a tribute in lights, but a distraction to the viewer. Amateurs and professionals, alike, appear in backgrounds and in foregrounds of images made at both orchestrated events and in more candid moments. The once-invisible professional photographer’s process has been laid bare.

On occasion, photographers even purposefully make their fellow photographers the subject of their pictures.  The most difficult picture to take, it seems, is one without the presence of another photographer either explicitly or implicitly in the frame.

Everyone wants to record their own version of reality—ironically, it turns out, because by distracting oneself with a camera, it’s easy to miss the true experience of a moment. At a recent Jack White concert, the guitarist requested that audience members stop trying to take their own photos. “The bigger idea,” his label noted in a statement, “is for people to experience the event with their own eyes and not watch an entire show through a tiny screen in their hand. We have every show photographed professionally and the pictures are available from Jack White’s website shortly after to download for free.”

The abundance of camera phones and inexpensive digital cameras has changed the photographic landscape in countless and still-incompletely understood ways, and it’s not just the North Korean government trying to find ways around the hoards of photographers making their way into everyone else’s shots. Here, TIME looks back on the past year to highlight an increasingly common phenomenon: the photographer in the picture.

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Ten percent of all of the photographs made in the entire history of photography were made last year — an astounding figure. More than ever before, thanks in part to cell phone technology, the world is engaged with photography and communicating through pictures.

Nonetheless, a great photograph will rise above all the others. The ten photographs we present here are the pictures that moved us most in 2012. They all deliver a strong emotional impact — whether they show a child mourning his father who was killed by a sniper in Syria (slide #3); a heartbreaking scene in a Gaza City morgue (slide #1); a haunting landscape of New Jersey coastline after Hurricane Sandy, a rollercoaster submerged under the tide (slide #2); or a rare glimpse of President Obama moments before he goes out on stage during a campaign rally (slide #9). We spoke to each of the photographers about their images, and their words provide the captions here.

Over the past several days, we’ve unveiled TIME’s Best Photojournalism and Best Portraits of the Year galleries on LightBox. And in the next three weeks, we will be rolling out even more end-of-year features: the Most Surprising Pictures of the Year; the Best Photo Books of the Year; the Top 10 Photographic Magazine Covers of the Year and other compelling galleries. We will also recognize TIME’s choice for the Best Wire Photographer of the Year. Senior photo editor Phil Bicker is curating many of these galleries with help from the photo team at TIME. His discerning eye has been responsible for the curation of TIME’s Pictures of the Week throughout the year, galleries that regularly present the best of the week’s images, with surprising and sometimes offbeat takes on the news.  We will round off the year on December 31 with our second-annual “365: Year in Pictures,” a comprehensive look at the strongest picture of every day of 2012.

Kira Pollack, Director of Photography

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Mitt Romney made history Tuesday night as the first Republican to win both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary since 1976. Ron Paul came in second and Jon Huntsman finished third, while Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry trailed in their wake. Photojournalist Christopher Morris’ latest collection for TIME explores the journey behind this historic primary and the strange mix of enthusiasm, fear and anticipation that accompanied it.

In 2006, the Morris released his first monograph, My America, which began on assignment for TIME during the George W. Bush administration. Now he journeys into Republican America again for TIME in this collection.

Morris trains his lens on those to whom the political grasp for power is most dear—not solely the candidates, but perhaps more poignantly, the voters. Complex and diverse faces drew Morris’ attention in New Hampshire. “A true visual palette awaits any photographer who ventures up here to experience the very American process called a primary,” says Morris. “Not only was I captivated by the looks of the New Hampshire voters, but equally interesting were the campaign staff, the journalists and the odd-man-out characters on the campaign trail.”

Morris’ ability to capture the tension that connects the inner human spirit with outward communal realities is unparalleled. He describes his anthropological style as “straight and modern.” To that, we would add distinct and cinematic.

His insight into America’s young faces—the children whose future many of the candidates claim they are running to save—conveys a fresh look into the candidates’ audiences. His images here of blue sequined boots and twisted American flags provoke deeper wonderment at both the American social realities and political processes. Then there is his soon-to-be priceless snapshot of Ron Paul—in all his White House runs, we’ve never seen Paul look quite like this. Enjoy a moment to soak in these pictures before the race sprints onward to the Palmetto State.

Christopher Morris is a contract photographer for TIME and represented by VII. See more of his work here.

Elizabeth Dias is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau. Find her on Twitter @elizabethjdias.

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