The year began, unsettlingly, with the arrival of a right-wing mob at the U.S. Capitol—a congregation that appeared at once alien and deeply familiar. The photojournalist Balazs Gardi, who spent months documenting the work of extremists with Luke Mogelson, captures, in black-and-white, the lawless rage that would come to define January 6th. The images from that day underscore the challenge of taking a picture of a crowd; there’s an intrinsic conflict between the aggregate and the particular, between the contours of a swarm and the specificity of an unmasked face.
Even the celebratory images of life after COVID-19 vaccines made use of this tension. Matthew Pillsbury’s long-exposure vistas render New York’s revellers as anonymous blurs of motion. Natalie Keyssar’s snapshots from dance floors across the city capture the exquisite beauty and awkwardness of people dancing in the dark. The year’s weird, collective catharsis was perhaps most accurately illustrated by Mark Peterson’s pictures of Knicks fans, taken outside Madison Square Garden after a winning game against the Hawks. As Vinson Cunningham wrote in his dispatch from the Garden, the fans’ glee—over being back in the stands after months away, over the Knicks being in the playoffs for the first time in eight years—readily gave way to a kind of “senseless antagonism.” One of Peterson’s pictures shows two Knicks fans, their mouths open wide and their eyes seemingly trained on different targets, screaming into the night.