The cover story: TIME's top 100 photos of 2021

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The Cover Story
TIME's Top 100 Photos of 2021
By Katherine Pomerantz
Director of Photography, TIME

Every year for the past several years, as the members of TIME's photo department go about our daily and weekly coverage, we set aside hundreds of images that make us stop, reflect, and feel. 

In late August of this year, we began a series of virtual team meetings, led by Deputy Director of Photography Andrew Katz, to review the images for inclusion in our annual unranked selection of the year's Top 100 Photos. Every single image is presented on screen as we engage in a lively debate about whether the image should be considered for the final curation. We read each caption and consider the creative choices the photographer made or the risks they took, evaluate how the image transports the viewer to a specific place and moment, and discuss how the image compares with others on the same topic. Occasionally a collective gasp or bursts of laughter are enough to indicate that a photograph should be moved into the next round.

Some images are clearly destined for the Top 100 Photos list the moment they are filed to a TIME photo editor. In early January, when photographer Christopher Lee photographed Officer Eugene Goodman holding back rioters inside the U.S. Capitol, we immediately knew we would be seeing the frame again in our Top 100 Photos project. Other images are not so obvious. A bizarre moment showing members of the Dutch field hockey team running from sprinklers during a warm-up at the Tokyo Olympics might not have been the defining visual of the games, but the clever composition of the photograph, made by Steph Chambers, ultimately secured its place in our final selection.

Time Photo Department
From left: TIME photo team members Andrew Katz, Kim Bubello, and Sangsuk Sylvia Kang work on sequencing the Top 100 Photos of 2021.

After the photo team decides on the final 100 photos, we move on to the next stage of the process: sequencing the images. The order is not chronological, but more poetic: each photo deliberately placed to help guide the viewer across themes and emotions and around the globe. Each image should stand alone, but also be able to speak to what comes before and after. As you scroll from one photo to the next, look out for the echo of a hand gesture, a gentle color shift from cool to warm, or the repetition of shapes and shadows. 

With immense gratitude to all the photographers around the world who marked this year of uncertainty and transition with moments of clarity, we are excited to share with you TIME's Top 100 Photos of 2021.

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