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Pictures We Love: Seeking Solace Amid Strife

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Paul Salopek’s walk brought him near the Rosh HaNiqra grottoes in northern Israel, at the border with Lebanon. From the Mediterranean shore he will aim north and then east into Eurasia, as the earliest human travelers did.

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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Generally perceived to be a corrupt brute force, FARDC is allegedly composed of delinquents who often join to possess a weapon and take things at will from the population. Congo, 2012. “Michael Christopher Brown in Congo” Photograph by Michael Christopher Brown

At first glance, I thought this image was simple and beautiful in spite of showing a soldier in the heart of the Congo jungle—camouflaging himself in the tall grass, concealing his eyes, not seeing and not being seen. But Michael Christopher Brown manages, in a single frame, to reveal the complex layers of a man and a country embroiled in seemingly endless misery and war. The image, to my eye, conveys a lingering beauty hidden deep inside this country and possibly, likely, this man.

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Ahmed, age 5, (right) cries out of fear after crossing into Turkey from Syria with his family. From an upcoming story that is part of the “Out of Eden Walk,” Photograph by John Stanmeyer

Kim Hubbard, Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

When John Stanmeyer went to Turkey to photograph our upcoming “Refugees” story for the magazine, we agreed he’d stay silent on social media and as low-key as possible out of concern for his safety. But one Saturday morning I got an urgent email from him saying that thousands of people had massed to cross the border from Syria as ISIS was taking control of more cities. He wrote, “I don’t give a damn anymore about people knowing where I am given what’s taking place.” We decided to shift gears and prepare a news story for our website the next day. It was a gutsy move on his part, because the minute we published the pictures online, he’d become a target for kidnapping or worse.

He kept photographing that day and night, and started sending me batches of images in the early hours of Sunday morning (at which point he’d been awake for more than 24 hours). When I received this picture of the crying child, I actually said, “Wow” out loud. It really hit home for me what was happening there. And what a good photographer John is.

In all the chaos, he had managed to capture a moment that immediately took you to the heart of this refugee story: People just like you and me were being forced to flee their homes into an uncertain future. It was unsettling, and it was scary. This little boy, a 5-year-old named Ahmed, was emblematic of what thousands were feeling. His picture made me feel it too.

And in typical Stanmeyer fashion, it was a wonderfully composed photograph. From the ear on the far right of the frame, to the car and silhouette on the far left, from the distressed faces of the children in the center, to the highlight on the tears of Ahmed’s face. Every bit of this picture is dense with detail. The emotion is palpable. The lighting is beautiful. The photograph was perfect, and the perfect messenger to give these refugees a voice.

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The interior of the post office in Mykolayivka, Donetsk Oblast, which was damaged by shelling. “The Most Frightening Thing About War” Photograph by Anastasia Taylor-Lind

This picture speaks to me because it is a quiet war picture, one without any blood or action. Here we feel the aftermath of shelling, and we can tell it is fresh. The plants look well-watered and cared for, although the forest backdrop is faded from sunlight and years of use. The foreignness of the locale is revealed through Soviet-style typography and architecture. It’s this sort of dystopian clash between man and nature. This quiet post office has been turned into a war zone.

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Paul Salopek’s walk brought him near the Rosh HaNiqra grottoes in northern Israel, at the border with Lebanon. From the Mediterranean shore he will aim north and then east into Eurasia, as the earliest human travelers did. “Blessed. Cursed. Claimed.” December 2014 Photograph by John Stanmeyer

First seeing this image, I was immediately taken back to my roots. Growing up on the coast of Southern California, the energetic ebb and flow of surf and the smell of fresh sea air had always been a part of my life. In my relatively new Washington D.C. life, I miss looking out on a blue horizon and feeling the sand between my toes. It’s that feeling of freedom and peace that this photo most immediately projects. The crooked horizon line and vantage point allows the viewer to feel as if they are a bird taking flight over the vast ocean; the natural tones of the image are calming beyond measure.

Peel back a layer further and you find more to this image. Although this photograph looks like it could be in Laguna Niguel, it is taken overlooking the Mediterranean sea in northern Israel at its border with Lebanon. That tiny dot near the horizon line on the left is an Israeli naval ship, anchored there permanently to protect Israel’s border from Hezbollah attacks. A visible border of earth and sky forms an axis with an unseen border of security and insecurity. A sense of freedom tugs against the reality of limitations.

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


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