Photojournalists share the stories behind images that defined 2021

We take a look back at some of the images that have defined 2021, and hear from the photojournalists who captured them about the stories behind the scenes.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Finally tonight, we wanted to take a look back at some of the images that have defined this incredible year and hear from the photojournalists who captured them.

  • Mario Tama, Getty Images:

    My name is Mario Tama. I'm a staff photographer with Getty Images.

    This year, I covered COVID impacts in Southern California, Louisiana, and Brazil.

  • Marcus Yam, The Los Angeles Times:

    My name is Marcus Yam. I'm a foreign correspondent and photojournalist for The Los Angeles Times.

    I was in Kabul during the fall of Afghanistan. Little did I know I would see the swift change of power.

  • Justin Sullivan, Getty Images:

    My name is Justin Sullivan. I'm a staff photographer with Getty images. I'm based in San Francisco.

    This year was a busy year for me. I covered a lot of stories that revolved around the drought that's happening in the Western United States and also a lot of wildfires.

  • Leah Millis, Thomson Reuters:

    My name is Leah Millis. I am a senior photographer for Thomson Reuters. I cover politics, breaking news, feature stories, other things around the world.

  • Ashley Gilbertson, VII Photo Agency:

    So, my name is Ashley Gilbertson. I'm a photojournalist. I live in New York City, and I'm with the photo agency called VII.

    And I do a lot of work as a freelancer for The New York Times. And they said, do you want to go to Washington tomorrow? Because there's going to be this Stop the Steal rally, and we're looking for some pictures of impassioned Trump supporters and whatever else happens.

    And as I got to the lawn on the Capitol, behind the Capitol, I could see that there was a group of Trump rioters now, and they were pushing and smashing a door and windows at one of the rear entrances.

    So I ran straight towards that. They got in, and I was one of the first 20 people into the place, and I followed this crowd as they moved through the corridors. And some of them put their hands up. And there was shouting.

    And so I move in front to see what's going on. And I see that there's a police officer standing there, and he's shouting at them. I didn't know that he was protecting and trying to lead them somewhere else. I didn't know that there was — he was going to take them away from the chamber, where there were still senators inside.

    That police officer, who we now know is Eugene Goodman, to me, was the sole act of real courage that I saw.

  • Leah Millis:

    The one photo that I caught a flashbang in is a very imperfect image.

    Part of the exposure is kind of blown out. But I think the photo really resonates with people because it kind of captures the shock of what was going on.

    I remember looking around and just being in complete disbelief or shock. I could have never imagined a scene like that.

  • Marcus Yam:

    Photographic coverage of what went on in Afghanistan was so important, because the world saw quickly how tragic things became.

    In the 24 hours leading up to the Americans leaving, I — there are these key moments that I remember. I remember there was gunfire rattling in the air out throughout the night. And it was like the Taliban had won the Super Bowl.

    It felt so surreal being inside that airport as they took over. And I thought, this is a new chapter in Afghanistan's history. And I remember thinking to myself, I will — I will look back at this day and remember this for the rest of my life.

  • Justin Sullivan:

    Covering the wildfires in California is definitely eye-opening, and it has evolved so much over the 20 years that I have been covering them.

    They're much bigger now. They're much more unpredictable, dangerous. We have had wildfires in California this year that almost burned a million acres, which is a first. And it's devastating. And to see towns go up in flames, people's homes go up in flames, livelihood, farms, it's heartbreaking.

    And it's like — I mean, this story about drought and wildfire, it affects everyone in California. Whether you like it or not, you're going to get — you're going to get impacted by smoke. You're going to get impacted by the fire itself. You're going to be impacted when the water runs out. It affects everyone.

  • Mario Tama:

    I think the role of photojournalists during the pandemic and during other mass casualty events and natural disasters is to document the human side of these crises.

    And, for me, it was really important to document the reality that was happening in the hospitals and the really unfortunate, tragic reality of the cemeteries and the mortuaries.

    And I remember walking through one of the hospital corridors, and — in one of the COVID wards, and one of the nurses said to me: "The world needs to see this. Thank you for being here."

    And I kept those words in the back of my head.

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