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The best photojournalism of the last decade

National Geographic logo National Geographic 10/26/2020 Whitney Johnson
a group of people standing on top of a mountain: 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. © PHOTOGRAPH BY STEPHANIE SINCLAIR

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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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.

a group of people sitting at night: 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. © PHOTOGRAPH BY DANIEL BEREHULAK, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

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.

Other outstanding examples of photojournalism from the past decade:

  • 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.
a person sitting in front of a store: 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. © PHOTOGRAPH BY MARY CALVERT

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.

  • 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.”
a group of people in a dark room: 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. © Photograph by Maggie Steber, National Geographic

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.

  • 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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