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Pictures We Love: Moments of Innocence

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Children at a coming-of-age ceremony on Røst play in the endless summer sunshine—but their days on the island are limited: Teens must move away to attend the regional high school.

National Geographic’s Proof blog invited the photography and design teams of National Geographic magazine to look back through the hundreds of photographs from the over 75 stories published in 2013 and select one photo that spoke to their heart, intrigued them, inspired awe, made them smile—in short, to choose their favorite photo from this past year. Over the next several days we’ll bring you a round-up of the breathtaking, the touching, the extraordinary, the imperfect, and the beautiful.

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Return to River Town, March 2013 Photograph by Anastasia Taylor-Lind

The truth is that on another day I could have picked a different picture altogether. It didn’t have to be Anastasia Taylor-Lind’s image of a fisherman’s kids floating on the Yangtze. I could have chosen Rena Effendi’s haymaking out of a Bruegel painting, Michael Yamashita’s Suzhou opera singers through the curtain, Matthieu Paley’s Khan with his wife tiny in the snow behind him, Diane Cook and Len Jenshel’s canopy of cherry blossoms, David Guttenfelder’s North Korean performer crying for her nation’s leader, or Jonas Bendiksen’s ancient skier propped up by skis. I love them all. How can you prefer one child over the others?

And no offense, Anastasia, but the composition is messy, with that fish balloon overlapping the girl’s knee and giving her body such an odd shape. Why is she grabbing her foot, as the fish swims out of the frame, giving us the eye? But favorite is not the same as best. I suppose I just couldn’t resist such a casually lighthearted moment—the kids fooling around unself-consciously, the brother’s arm around his sister as he sprawls across the boat yelling or singing, her head trustingly on his shoulder. There’s an immediacy that draws us into their intimacy.

So, go look at all the pictures from 2013 and choose your own favorite—this one’s mine.

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The Changing Face of America. October 2013 Photograph by Martin Schoeller

When I was asked to participate in the casting of photo subjects for the Changing Faces story I was daunted to say the least. We needed multiracial subjects from all over the U.S., from every kind of community, for the photos to be accurately representative. We brainstormed for days to find the best way to locate our subjects. What it boiled down to was good old-fashioned research, phone calls, emails, and more phone calls.

While scouring Facebook one day I came across this wonderful little angel’s face with platinum blond hair, green eyes smiling back at me. His profile was perfect for our story. After many emails and phone calls (and luck) I finally made direct contact with Tayden Burrell and his mother.

“Of course” they were willing to be photographed by Martin Schoeller for our story! Almost everyone we contacted had the same enthusiastic reaction. I was even luckier to have found myself in New York City the day Martin was photographing little Tayden. Not only was I fortunate enough to watch Martin in action, I had the chance to touch those golden locks on Tayden’s head—and it was just as wonderful as you’d imagine.

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Stranded on the Roof of the World, February 2013 Photograph by Matthieu Paley

I found many photographs from this story to be exquisite for their combination of vivid color and barren landscapes, of humor and harshness. The riveting gaze of this young girl, at once innocent and old beyond her years, draws me in. The contrast between her dead-center, sharp presence and the slightly out-of-focus, more candid air of the girl on the right reminds me this is a glimpse of everyday life in a remote and extreme corner of the world.

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The Last of the Viking Whalers, June 2013 Photograph by Marcus Bleasdale

For our story “Last of the Viking Whalers” photographer Marcus Bleasdale captured this picture of schoolgirls painting golden streaks on their skin and hair by smearing dandelions on each other after a coming-of-age ceremony on the remote island of Røst, Norway. Some island fishing communities like Røst have become so small that they cannot support a local high school, and parents must send their children to live on the mainland, away from home, to continue their education when they turn 15. These girls here are part of the next generation who must leave the island to continue their schooling.

At first you don’t even realize how close Marcus must be standing to the girls to compose this image in a way that feels as if you are right there with them. And by doing so, he takes us there at once, to see the stunning natural beauty of the island and the joy of a normal day in one honest, elegant moment. Through this photograph, we understand more about why it is so hard to leave this place altogether. I love that a photograph can celebrate the in-between, and remind us that life happens here, even as it is bittersweet.

Elizabeth Grady, Rights Manager

After glancing through the entire year, this image drew me in the most for some reason. I love the innocence, the ephemeral quality, the movement, the sweetness.

View these photographs and more in our interactive Year in Review.

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