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Pictures We Love: Celebrating Life, From Start to Finish

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Preparations for the Christmas day Kolyadki are taking place in the home of 72-year-old Babushka Katya Alekseyevna Panchenya. She is a mainstay of local traditions in her village.

At National Geographic, photography is what holds our stories together and what makes them shine. It’s what we do the best and love the most. Our photo editors work with thousands of images every year (if not every day) and so we asked each of them—editors from National Geographic MagazineNational Geographic Magazine, News, Traveler, Your Shot, and Proof—to share one picture that stood out for them in 2014. We didn’t ask them to talk about the “best” photo, but the one that resonated with them the most. Over the coming days, we’ll bring you their personal reflections and share the heart of what we’ve been up to this year.

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Four-year-old Andy Anderson helps his parents with a cow who is having trouble birthing a calf. “Growing Up in Big Sky Country” Photograph by Ami Vitale

Nicole Werbeck, Senior Photo Editor, News

As I considered all the images that ran in National Geographic magazine and online, I kept coming back to this one.

I was working on a story with Ami Vitale about the effects of the oil boom in Bakken, Montana. My colleague Alexa Keefe and I were discussing ideas with her, when she mentioned that she had been working on a story near her home about ranch kids in Montana.

There are so many elements that drew me into this image. The light of the midnight sky, the excitement on Andy Anderson’s face, and the looks exchanged between him and his father. It reminds me of a photo I have of my grandfather being pulled in a wagon by his goat around 1920.

It’s one of those images that no matter how many times you come back to it, you just have to smile.

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Preparations for the Christmas day Kolyadki are taking place in the home of 72-year-old Babushka Katya Alekseyevna Panchenya. She is a mainstay of local traditions in her village. Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen

Here is a picture you have never seen; until now, almost no one has. Shot by Jonas Bendiksen in Belarus for a story in our food series, the image was never published. Every year there are countless frames that never make it to page or screen, and among them always a few beloved castaways I mourn, stranded before they ever leave the editing room.

Here I see a moment of rest, after all the preparation, the long hours of shopping and cooking—that millisecond of quiet readiness before welcome visitors burst through the door and invade the house to share in the plenty. We’re overwhelmed by the abundance of life, from the table laden with sustenance for the body, to the lush jungle of plants exhaling oxygen, to the imagery and icons that nourish the spirit. All waiting, surrounding the oblivious napper who has escaped the kitchen.

As one who never cooks, I identify. For me, editing a story is like finding the most delicious morsels from the feast. I’d much rather eat than cook.

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“Unfortunately, I had to make a new photo about my grandparents…” Photograph by Sarvady Matyas, National Geographic Your Shot

This is one of those rare photos where I don’t need to read the caption. I know the story. It’s clear to me as my eyes move across the frame from the scattered petals to the empty shoes. Some critics might say it’s too simple or too set-up and there’s no mystery left to the frame, but there’s also great power in its ability to connect with almost instantly. What captivated me was photographer Sarvady Matyas’s ability to create an image with so much emotion and depth, but with so few elements. It also wasn’t the typical widow photo that we see so often, where the grieving sits with a photo of their loved one in their hands and while its sad and beautiful, you can’t keep it up for too long as the sadness usually overtakes the beauty; before long you’ve moved on.

This photo will stay with me. It will stay with me because it’s whimsical and unpredictable and beautiful in its own way. It will stay with me because I want to remember how this photographer chose to express his own feeling of loss and decided he would take a “new photo of his grandparents.” It will stay with me because it embraces the visual power of the photograph and its ability to create memory. And it will stay with me because it reminds me that life is meant to be lived in the company of others.

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Performers show off a traditional sword dance at Tbilisi Restaurant Phaetoni. “A Toast to Georgia” Photograph by Massimo Bassano

Carol Enquist, Senior Photo Editor, Traveler

A favorite photo of mine was taken by Italian photographer Massimo Bassano in Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. He had recently arrived in the city to begin an assignment for Traveler magazine when he decided to check out Phaetoni, a restaurant popular with locals. That evening it was packed with people celebrating a birthday and, as is traditional in Georgia, the congratulatory toasts accompanied by red wine were plentiful. Suddenly two men dressed in vivid red tunics began to perform a traditional folk dance. Wheeling rapidly and twirling swords even more quickly, the dancers moved into the center of the restaurant. As Massimo explained “I jumped onto a nearby stage to get as close as possible to the action, kneeling down to avoid the swords whirling over my head.”

I like this photo for many reasons…the painting and Cyrillic writing on the wall as well as the colorful costumes gives the viewer a sense of place. The photo is nicely composed to include a table of guests and flickering lights and candles. Most importantly, though, his decision to get in close to the action and shoot from a low angle at a slow shutter speed conveys a sense of the dancers’ movements and adds to the drama of the scene. Massimo later told me that it was a little scary being so close to those swords flying around, but he got a baptism in authentic Georgian culture, the photo he was hoping for, and a great beginning to his assignment.

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Descendents of Augustin Metoyer visit a grave at Saint Augustine Catholic Church of Ile Brevelle in Louisiana. “Louisiana Three Ways, Creole Country,” October 2014 Photograph by Kris Davidson

Dan Westergren, Director of Photography, Traveler

For a story in the October issue of Traveler magazine titled “The Weirdest Country in America,” Kris Davidson traveled to the heart of Louisiana’s Creole country. In that part of the state “Creole” is a term used to describe a person whose descendants are a mix of French and Spanish settlers, Africans, and Native Americans.

Isle Brevelle, Louisiana is a quiet place. Kris was hoping that by attending Cane River patriarch Augustin Metoyer’s birthday celebration, she could get a picture containing the personality of the “Cane River Creole.” Looking through her photos of the event, I started to feel the pain she must have felt. I couldn’t imagine what kind of picture she would get at this church basement potluck. True, this church that has been standing since the 1800s, but the look of the place is best described by the word “ordinary.”

Then, as Kris took me out of the church through her pictures, I could see the situation turning around. Here was the great afternoon light. And the graves. Finally, the moment when Betty Metoyer Roque and her husband Charles Roque stopped at their great, great, great grandfather’s grave. Charles tipped his hat, then past and present collided.

Browse more of our favorite images from 2014 in these related “Pictures We Love” posts:

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