The best photojournalism of the decade

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

In the past decade, photojournalism exposed one of the massacres that prompted 750,000 people to flee Myanmar. It revealed the lives of some of the millions of girls who are forced to become child brides each year. It showed the medical miracle of a new face, the horror of sexual assault in the military, the impunity of death squads in the Philippines.

Last week, NYU’s journalism school declared 10 works of journalism as having the greatest impact of the past decade.

Missing: Photojournalism.

So we’ve spent the last few days looking at scores of the greatest photojournalism stories of the past decade. They weren’t hard to find. We settled on 10 to get the discussion going, and to prove a point—that next time around, a work of photojournalism will be included in a “greatest journalism” list. Here is our quick, and by no means definitive list, with a warning—a few of these images are graphic.

Above, photographer Stephanie Sinclair has traveled the world to tell the stories of child brides like Tahani, posting with a former classmate, Ghada, also a child bride outside their home in Yemen. Of Tahani’s early days of her marriage to Majed, then 25, she said: “Whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to see him.” The project spurred a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women and ending child marriage.

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A supposed “war on drugs” in the Philippines turned into an excuse for the killing of thousands of people by government-backed gunmen in the Philippines. In this image above, Daniel Berehulak captures the anguish of a 6-year-old girl as her father’s body was being moved for burial. Jimboy Bolasa, 25, was one of 57 homicide victims Berehulak documented in 35 days in 2016.

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For six years, Mary Calvert zeroed in on sexual assault in the military—and its lingering effects. Above, Rachel Lloyd comforts her husband Paul after he had a flashback. The scent of a candle in a Utah supermarket had reminded him of the shampoo he’d been using in the shower in Army basic training, where he had been beaten and raped by another recruit. Suddenly his hands were over his face, and he sank to the floor, sobbing. “It's hell, and there's no escape from it,” he was quoted as saying in Calvert's interactive story in 2019. More than 100,000 men have been sexually assaulted in the military in recent decades.

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Beyond a medical miracle, photographer Maggie Steber captured love. Above, Robb and Alesia Stubblefield hold their daughter, Katie, months after Katie received a face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in late 2017. Determined to help Katie live a life as normal and valuable as possible, Robb and Alesia put their own lives on hold for more than four years. They were looking then into ways to improve Katie’s vision.

Other outstanding examples of photojournalism from the past decade:

—The three images that showed the world what Myanmar had been denying: It was massacring members of its Muslim Rohingya minority and burning their villages in 2017. The report won a Pulitzer Prize, awarded while Reuters journalists Wa Loneand Kyaw Soe Oo spent 511 days imprisoned by Myanmar authorities for doing their job.
Nina Robinson’s account of life and loss originally intended to cover a swath of the South, but family misfortune prompted her instead to focus on the power of memory and the small town in Arkansas where her grandmother spent her last days. “I’ve never done anything so personal before,” Robinson said. And so universal.
Brent Stirton’s work on wildlife has changed the dynamic for conservation photography, says Photography Editor Kathy Moran. She points to his series on rhino poaching. One photo from that series, on a de-horned rhino in South Africa, won him the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year and a World Press Photo first place in nature storytelling.
Ruddy Roye’s six months in 2015 documented protest in Brooklyn, Mississippi, Memphis, Manhattan, and Ferguson. His photographic series, When Living is a Protest, was a revelation, showing people who pushed past the pain each day. “The fact that [people] refuse to go under, refuse to give up, that is a protest to me,” he said.
Matt Black‘s work through 46 states and Puerto Rico challenged mainstream representation of America's poor. His project, Geography of Poverty, breaks through America's mythologies and the stigma of being poor. He discovered, as he puts it, “who gets their needs met and who doesn’t; who’s valued and who isn’t.”
—Plenty of photographers parachuted in to South Dakota to cover the conflict in 2016 between Native Americans and developers of a pipeline that would run through their tribal lands. But photographer Josué Rivas spent seven months living at Standing Rock, participating in tribal ceremonies before even photographing the people, and his work conveyed a deeper understanding of what was at stake. “I knew I had to tell the story from an Indigenous perspective,” Rivas said.

Presenting a human face. Showing a touch of compassion. And using photography as evidence to hold people and governments accountable.

There is plenty to be proud of in this past decade of photojournalism, whether or not it is recognized.

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Today in a minute

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Award winner: This image of Japanese snow monkeys, modeling a collection of papier-mâché masks for a restaurant audience, told a story about the trivialization and commercialization of a species long revered as a messenger of the gods. Judges chose this work Thursday from 19,000 entries to award Nat Geo’s Jasper Doest the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Said one judge of the winning photo: “A macaque on stage takes off his mask in front of a fake forest. As the mask slips, the wall of arrogance that we have built between us and nature over many centuries suddenly collapses. Never before has a portrait of an animal mirrored us like this: a naked monkey behind a human mask.” Subscribers can read and see the story from March’s National Geographic.

This just in: The massive Colorado wildfires are producing unexpected photographic evidence of destruction. Families who have already fled the Estes Park area have been watching their homes go up in flames on home security cameras, CNN reports today. “It was so gut-wrenching when I opened up the app and I saw fire coming up our driveway and up the hillside,” one homeowner, Katy Brown, told CNN affiliate KUSA.

The Underground Railroad: Legendary photographer Dawoud Bey has been producing large-scale gelatin silver prints of moody nocturnal landscapes in Ohio, near the shores of Lake Erie. The images are from the last, northernmost stops of the Underground Railroad, taken from the perspective of a person on the cusp of freedom, the New York Times reports. Bey, 66, has said he seeks to describe Black experience in ways that are as complex as the experiences of others.

Yes, there’s a bug photographer of the year: That would be Mofeed Abu Shalwa, whose winning images included a red palm weevil and a flower crab spider. More than 800 photographers submitted entries for the first annual Luminar Bug Photographer of the Year, the Guardian reports.

Your Instagram of the day

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Hang in there! Photographer Jimmy Chin calls pro climber Felipe Camargo epically strong. Here Chin captures the Brazilian climber in Getu, China, home of one of the longest, hardest cave climbing routes in the world. He was so fast he left a companion, fearless Free Solo climber Alex Honnold, in the dust. "He crushed everything," Honnold said. Nearly a half million people have liked this image on our Instagram page in the past two weeks.

Related: Photographing steep cliffs and ice walls from a whole new angle

The big takeaway

Essential—and concerned: Factory worker Gisel Villagómez, 33, arrived in the United States from Mexico when she was two. She works as the project and contracting manager at her sister's garment factory, which stayed open during the pandemic to produce more than 180,000 masks and 100,000 reusable protective gowns. Although she is considered an essential worker, she also faces a strict U.S. administration approach toward “Dreamers,” people who arrived in the U.S. when they were children. “I’ve got this deportation order hanging over my head,” Villagómez tells Héctor Tomar in his look at undocumented workers for Nat Geo.

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The last glimpse

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Modernizing: Our latest monthly collection of our Photos of the Day, curated by Breann Birkenbuel, includes this image from a 1995 story on Oman's efforts at modernizing. In the past half century, the formerly restrictive and reclusive Gulf nation has turned into a modern and stable state, Foreign Policy wrote in January. In Oman, three Islamic traditions—Sunni, Shiite, and Ibadhi—peacefully coexist along with adherents of other faiths. (Pictured above, a woman participates in an adult literacy class while her granddaughters look on.)

Please send along your ideas for the best photojournalism of the decade. A special thanks to those who helped us with our top photojournalism picks. They include Kathy Moran, Sarah Leen, Curt Chandler, Kainaz Amaria, John Edwin Mason, Julie Hau, Andrea Wise, James Wellford, Samantha Clark, Anne Farrar, and Maura Friedman.
This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Janey Adams, Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this, and Amanda Williams-Bryant, Rita Spinks, Alec Egamov, and Jeremy Brandt-Vorel also contributed this week. Thanks, as always, for reading!