The photos that made us stop and think this year

In the year of ‘realising things’, photography provided an important tool for reflection, social change and acceptance. Here are some of our favourite stories from the past 12 months

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In Kylie Kardashian’s own words, 2016 was the year of realising things. Take that as you will, but photography was a great tool to help us think this year. Through the medium, we reevaluated how we view our own bodies and how we view bodies that are different to our own. It proved that sexuality can take form in more ways than most of us imagined. It showed us how much we love to party in cities such as London, Berlin and New York, and in a variety of places none of us had barely heard of. It called out the ridiculousness of censorship and also that photography can help us create safe spaces, even if they only exist through the lens.

In 2016, Dazed Digital showcased thousands-upon-thousands of photos, so whittling these down to just ten was a bit difficult. That said, perhaps it’s best to take these as a jumping off point to go back and re-explore even more stories. In the end, I chose these photos not because of how many page views they garnered but because each of them taught me, hopefully you, something.

THE WOMAN WHO PHOTOGRAPHED HIP HOP HISTORY

For as long as I remember, I've listened to hip hop. The first artists I encountered were names such as Tupac, Nas, Snoop Dogg and Biggie. For all my love for it – even with strong woman involved such as Lil Kim, Aaliyah and Trina – it seemed like a man’s world entirely. So to have the chance to speak to a woman who witnessed its rise, made a career out of it, not to mention some of the era’s most iconic photographs, was an honour. From a New York B-girl to a photographer on the set of Snoop’s “What’s My Name?” and Nas’s studio sessions for Illmatic, Leone would later go on to work with Stanley Kubrick as well as on her own films. And she’s still going. Read the full story here.

THE STORIES BEHIND RARELY SEEN PHOTOS OF BOWIE IN THE 70S

Just ten days into what we now know as the absolute shocker that was 2016, David Bowie passed away. Photographing him as recently as October 2015, Steve Schapiro reflected; “I have experienced photographing a lot of people, but, Bowie, he was different. He was calm, very intelligent, didn’t drag around 20 cases of beer with him… we talked about philosophy and he had a very definite idea of what he wanted to do… he was very specific, he kept changing and pushing things further and further.” Alongside the Starman, Schapiro also shot on the set of Taxi Driver, with Warhol and during the Civil Rights Movement – all of which he spoke to us about earlier this year. Read the full story here.

THESE PHOTOS CELEBRATE THE BEAUTY AND DIVERSITY OF OUR HAIR

Amandla Stenberg kicked off the year with her now-notorious video “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows”, in which she called out celebrities and media for turning traditional black hairstyles into trends. In doing so, she set in motion a series of much-needed discussions around non-white hair. In celebration, we worked with photographer Nadine Ijewere on a series that explored the complex world of hair and the relationship between choice and expectation. Read the full story here.

THESE PHOTOS CONSTRUCT A PLAYFUL UTOPIA FOR YOUNG BLACK MEN

Police brutality is nothing new and, on this tragic and infuriating issue, 2016 sadly held no surprises. However, with increasing advances in technology, such as the introduction of Facebook Live, the way police brutality is covered in the news (and alternative outlets) is groundbreaking. Earlier this year, we saw a senseless string of deaths at the hands of police and no matter how much we protested, mourned, screamed out, they kept coming. Photographer and filmmaker, Tyler Mitchell, turned instead to a utopia, where black men could behave in the same way that white men could, without fear of being shot and killed. What was once a world that existed purely in his imagination came to life through this shoot and interview. Read the full story here.

HAS CENSORSHIP GONE TOO FAR AND THESE PHOTOS BRING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES TO LIFE

While Steph Wilson’s two photo series that she shot for Dazed Digital both made us think, it’s Wilson’s work in itself that continues to pose important questions to us. Through fine art photography, Wilson combatted issues of mental health and censorship, filtering them through her lens in a conceptual way that brought them new meaning. Read the full story here and here.

CELEBRATING GAY PRIDE IN UGANDA

It’s difficult enough to read about the bigotry and discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community is exposed to on an increasingly regular basis in places such as the UK and the US, however, hearing stories first-hand, combined with viewing Diana Zeyneb’s photos of gay people celebrating gay pride, is both heartbreaking and empowering. In the face of criminalisation and being exiled from their homes and loved ones, we met a group of people and activists flying in the face of hatred to celebrate their true selves. Read the full story here.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MEN AND WOMEN SWITCH ROLES?

Gender was a huge topic for exploration this year, finally gaining the discussion and dialogue that it has so long deserved. In this thought-provoking series, photographer Pixy Yijun Liao deconstructed China’s staunch gender roles and discovered what happens when they’re flipped. Read the full story here.

HOW TO GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH PHOTOGRAPHY

Earlier this year, we had the honour of getting on the phone with photographer Bruce Davidson to chat about his illustrious career and oeuvre. Allowing us to pick his brain, the luminary gave us his tips for making a great photo. While simple, he reminded us of things like “Stick around long enough to get to know your subject”, “Be spontaneous”, and “Take risks”. Read the full story here.

INSIDE MATT LAMBERT AND GRINDR’S NEW BOOK ABOUT SAFE SPACES

At the end of one of the hardest years for the LGBTQ+ community, Matt Lambert released a new book, Home, in collaboration with Grindr – featuring men cast from the app directly. In honour of its publication, Lambert spoke to us about the importance of safe spaces for gay men. Read the full story here.

IS OUR OBSESSION WITH OUR SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DANGEROUS?

More people than ever are admitting (or being called out for) altering their social media posts with Photoshop-like apps – a phenomenon that photographer Scarlett Carlos Clarke finds increasingly disturbing. Using the character of a bored 50s housewife, Carlos Clarke crafted a hyperreal world where the line between real and altered is becoming wider and wider every time we hit 'publish'. Read the full story here.

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