Our Favorite Photos of 2021

Ten of our favorite series from this year

In 2021 we were honored to receive the National Magazine Award for Photography, and we’ve been proud to publish extraordinary imagery from photographers around the world. This year’s photography, including extraordinary images from Colombia, Scandinavia, Tehran and California capture subcultures, communities, traditions and challenges that help define each place.


“Exodus” by Nicoló Filippo Rosso (Stranger’s Guide: Colombia)

“Fearing an outbreak of the Coronavirus, Colombia closed its border to Venezuela in the spring of 2020. That didn’t deter Venezuelans: every day, hundreds of people continued to cross on foot into Colombia illegally, evading officials along a porous border that stretches for 1,380 miles,” writes photographer Nicoló Filippo Rosso. We caught up with Rosso last month to hear how photographing the migration crisis has changed in the past year.


“The Reindeer Chronicles” by Carl-Johan Utsi (Stranger’s Guide: Scandinavia)

Not only is Carl-Johan Utsi a photographer, documenting the lives of Saami herdsmen, but he also works as a reindeer herder himself in the Sirges Saami Reindeer herding community—and his family has done the same for generations.⁠


“Reading for Tehran Streets” by Maryam Firuzi (Stranger’s Guide: Tehran)

“Taking an awkward, sometimes painful stance against my own escapism, against my comfort and my walls of books, I step into the city,” writes photographer Maryam Firuzi. “I let my imagination free, to flow into and mingle with the city.”


“Red Skies” by Max Whittaker (Stranger’s Guide: California)

Photographer Max Whittaker has been at the scene of many of California’s fires to capture the worst of them on celluloid. His images are stark, visceral snapshots of disaster, chronicling the cost to wildlife, human life and homes, each photograph seared with either an orange glow or the ashy gray of the fallout.


“Jumping In” by Josefin Olevik and Sara Mac Key (Stranger’s Guide: Scandinavia)

“There’s nothing new about winter swimming, but it hasn’t been this popular in a long while,” Josefin Olevik writes in an essay accompanying Sara Mac Key’s photographs. “Ice swimming is one of the unlikeliest activities to become a craze during the pandemic.”


“El Chocó” by Kike Arnal (Stranger’s Guide: Colombia)

“Photographer Kike Arnal first traveled to the state of Chocó in the late 1990s, on a boat trip through the jungle,” writes editor Kyla Kupferstein Torres in our Colombia guide. “Chocó’s population is predominantly Black, the balance Indigenous, a legacy from the days when enslaved Africans escaped from captivity and established free communities along the Pacific coast of Colombia.”


“The Tarped Streets” by Svet Jacqueline (Stranger’s Guide: California)

“I specialize in people,” photographer Svet Jacqueline says, “shooting them and understanding them. Gaining their trust is the most important.” In the photo series “The Tarped Streets” from our California guide, Jacqueline has shot portraits of life in the Los Angeles’s encampments.


“Volcano” by Gohar Dashti (Stranger’s Guide: Tehran)

“Staged photography in Iran is layered with ambiguity,” says photographer Gohar Dashti. In her series “Volcano,” Dashti nods both to the more explicit threat of actual active volcanoes in the region, but also to the ever-present hint of danger: the menace of war and disaster.


“Women of the War” by Marcos Guevara and Nadège Mazars (Stranger’s Guide: Colombia)

“In Colombia, women joined paramilitary groups as guerrilla fighters for many different reasons,” write photographers Marcos Guevara & Nadège Mazars in our Colombia guide. “This series of photos follows the journey of women soldiers, beginning with their preparation for the soon-to-be signed peace agreement of 2016 through to their present-day lives, as they build homes for themselves now that the war is over.”


“A Home in the Mission” by Kike Arnal (Stranger’s Guide: California)

Based in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District on 16th Street, the organization El/La Para TransLatinas is a meeting space for the city’s trans community. In photographer Kike Arnal’s series “A Home in the Mission” we witness El/La’s joyous celebration of home.


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