Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

1 minute read

16 Of The Best Photo Essays From 2012

From a close-up look at a Pop Tart to a panoramic view of Mars, these are the images that captivated us this year.

  • <p>While perusing Google Maps one day, the German-born French photographer <a href="http://www.christophsillem.com/" target="_blank">Christoph Sillem</a> espied a large circle outside of Paris. It turned out to be a road surrounding Eurodisney. Upon first-hand investigation, he discovered a Disney town modeled on the style of Baron Haussmann, the French urban planner who in the 1860s, <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670256/the-other-disney-world-a-creepy-empty-village#1" target="_self">Suzanne LaBarre writes</a>, transformed Paris into the "fussy gilded museum it is today."</p>
  • <p>As <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670256/the-other-disney-world-a-creepy-empty-village#1" target="_self">these photos</a> reveal, vast sections of it stand empty, like a post-apocalyptic French village.</p>
  • <p>Read more about the project <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670256/the-other-disney-world-a-creepy-empty-village#1" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>Born to a European father and a Guinean mother, the photographer Namsa Leuba has a complicated relationship to colonialism, which she explores in this award-winning series titled <em><a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1669693/astonishing-tribal-portraiture-taken-using-western-eyes#1" target="_self">Ya Kala Ben</a></em>, for which she staged natives in her mother’s village as traditional statuettes.</p>
  • <p>"As a Westerner photographing tribal community members dressed in garb based on ritual tools," <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1669693/astonishing-tribal-portraiture-taken-using-western-eyes#1" target="_self">Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes</a>, "Leuba plays a game of cultural telephone. … By reimagining the ritual artifacts and capturing them in images, she’s documenting her own biases."</p>
  • <p>Read more <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1669693/astonishing-tribal-portraiture-taken-using-western-eyes#1" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>In July, NASA released <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670246/check-out-nasas-amazing-new-panoramic-photo-of-mars#1" target="_self">this panoramic view of Mars</a>, replete with rover tracks and a 14-mile-wide crater where scientists found evidence of ancient water.</p>
  • <p>The image is a composite of 817 photos taken by the Pancam between December 21, 2011 and May 8, 2012. If our eyes don’t deceive us, humans have already begun to colonize the Red Planet.</p>
  • <p>For<a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670766/unexpectedly-sublime-photos-of-empty-motel-pools#1" target="_self"> this series</a>, titled <em>No Life Guard on Duty</em>, <a href="http://www.jbennettfitts.com/index.php" target="_blank">J Bennett Fitts</a>, traveled 20,000 miles across the American Southwest to document abandoned motel pools.</p>
  • <p>Ruin porn? Sure. But as Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes, there’s also "evidence of life, if you look closely: an empty pool filled in with well-manicured grass, or an ant-sized family and their dog crossing over the shimmering L.A. river."</p>
  • <p>Read more <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670766/unexpectedly-sublime-photos-of-empty-motel-pools#1" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>Regardless of what you may think about beauty being subjective, according to scientific studies, humans are generally more attracted to symmetrical faces. That insight spurred the Australian photographer <a href="http://www.julianwolkenstein.com/" target="_blank">Julian Wolkenstein</a> to conduct his own experiment: By <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670852/would-you-recognize-yourself-with-a-completely-symmetrical-face#1" target="_self">altering the portraits of his subjects to create perfectly symmetrical visages</a>, he renders them almost unrecognizable.</p>
  • <p>Check out the rest of the uncanny photos <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670852/would-you-recognize-yourself-with-a-completely-symmetrical-face#1" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>China’s unchecked growth has meant entire cities being built in the span of a few years. It has also taken an environmental and human toll, with both nature and homes destroyed in the wake of new developments.</p>
  • <p>The Yangtze river (and its Three Gorges dam, the largest dam in history and a major source of electricity for the rapidly growing country) form the subject of <a href="http://www.nadavkander.com/" target="_blank">Nadav Kander</a>'s series, <em><a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670884/a-stirring-photo-essay-on-chinas-longest-river#1" target="_self">Yangtze: The Long River</a></em>, illustrating the devastation and resilient vibrancy surrounding China’s famous waterway.</p>
  • <p>Read more <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670884/a-stirring-photo-essay-on-chinas-longest-river#1" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>Double exposures are nothing new, but the photographers Stephanie Bassos and Timothy Burkhart have turned the technique into a collaborative effort--and <a href="http://peoplevsplaces.tumblr.com/" target="_blank">Tumblr page</a>--with each photo containing an image of people shot by Bassos and a landscape snapped by Burkhart.</p>
  • <p>The <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670891/dueling-photogs-share-the-same-roll-of-film#1" target="_self">resulting compositions </a>are unexpectedly serendipitous, representing, Mark Wilson writes, the "sweet spot where art emerges from chaos."</p>
  • <p>Read more <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670891/dueling-photogs-share-the-same-roll-of-film#1" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>The German amateur photographer Markus Reugels has perfected the art of high-speed water-droplet photography, capturing every drop’s conceivable fleeting pose.</p>
  • <p>See more stunning examples and read about his process <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670911/high-speed-photography-turns-water-droplets-into-liquid-sculptures#1" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>When the creators of the genius Twitter account that canonized girl-specific questions like "Can you watch my stuff?" and "Should I get bangs?" scored a book deal, the next question became how to translate those utterances into images. The answer: as literally as possible.</p>
  • <p>See more <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670947/sht-girls-say-now-an-arty-photo-series-not-just-a-video#6" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>The photographer Luke Stephenson has taken a particular interest in show parakeets (or budgies, as they’re known in Britain), capturing <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671139/englands-finest-show-birds-proudly-mugging-for-their-portraits#1" target="_self">an array of pedigree birds against colored backgrounds</a> that bring out the personality and features of each feathered friend.</p>
  • <p>Check out his book, <em>An Incomplete History of Show Birds</em>,    <a href="http://www.incompletedictionary.com/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>The Atlantis’s final liftoff last summer immediately triggered our yearning for space exploration’s glory years. In 2009, the sights around Cape Canaveral, shot by <a href="http://davidryle.com/" target="_blank">David Ryle</a> and collected in his <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671209/photographing-the-sad-last-days-of-floridas-space-coast#1" target="_self">"Space Coast" series</a>, already appeared to be from a nostalgic, Technicolored past.</p>
  • <p>Read more <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671209/photographing-the-sad-last-days-of-floridas-space-coast#1" target="_self">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>The Bay Area–based food photographer <a href="http://carenalpert.com/" target="_blank">Caren Alpert</a> uses the scanning electron microscope to give viewers a really, really close look at what they eat.  “I’m not trying to dictate what foods are important or what foods you should like or dislike,” Alpert maintains. “I’m saying, ‘Look at it differently.’” What she’s found is that natural foods <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671212/an-electron-microscope-reveals-the-hidden-horrors-of-processed-foods" target="_self">show greater chemical complexity than processed foods</a>, which, in the case of this Pop Tart, can also look wholly unappetizing. The series can be seen online <a href="http://carenalpertfineart.com/" target="_blank">here</a>, or at New York’s Citigroup Building (153 E. 53rd St.) through January 31, 2013.</p>
  • <p><em>Terra Cibus no. 12: Cake Sprinkles</em></p>
  • <p><em>Terra Cibus no. 5: Salt</em></p>
  • <p>What would Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian, and Jennifer Aniston look like if they had never become famous? <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670357/what-jennifer-aniston-and-beyonce-would-look-like-as-ugly-regular-people" target="_self">These are Danny Evans’s best guesses</a>.</p>
  • <p>Writes Suzanne LaBarre, "There is sweet justice in taking Photoshop, the very tool that makes celebrities seem so insufferably flawless, and turning it cruelly against them."</p>
  • <p>This image may disturb you, but rest assured, the bird wasn’t harmed in the process. In fact, the net is a relatively humane way for ornithologists to gather the data they need for research, <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670470/audubon-20-cruelty-free-portraits-of-amazing-birds#1" target="_self">Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes</a>; back in John James Audubon’s day, ornithologists resorted to killing the subject of their studies. The photographer <a href="http://www.toddforsgren.com/" target="_blank">Todd R. Forsgren</a> sets the birds against a white background, against which they seem to display human emotions like fear and anger.</p>
  • <p>“I’m often surprised by how the personalities of different species of birds change when they’re in the net or hand as opposed to flying free,” the photographer says. "It is a fragile and embarrassing moment before they disappear back into the woods, and into data."</p>
  • <p>The subject of a mid-career retrospective shared between the Guggenheim and SFMoMA earlier this year, Rineke Dijkstra specializes in taking portraits, especially of teenagers, that betray vulnerability. As Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes, the Dutch photographer’s "lens is almost like an emotional X-ray machine, drawing out the fear, joy, and sheer energy of being alive. By letting teenagers play out their carefully constructed public personas, she captures something far more complicated."</p>
  • <p>When the Wellcome Collection announced the winners of its <a href="http://www.wellcomeimageawards.org/#" target="_blank">12th annual image awards</a>, we were awestruck by <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670138/10-of-the-years-most-amazing-science-photos" target="_self">the winners</a>--detailed views of everything from a chicken embryo to human tissue. This is a false-colored scanning electron micrograph of a caffeine crystal.</p>
  • <p>A chicken embryo.</p>
  • <p>Connective tissue.</p>
  • <p>The L.A.-based photographer Sharon Montrose specializes in snapping animals removed from their habitats and placed in front of stark white backgrounds. The <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670577/warning-dangerously-cute-animal-portraits-ahead#1" target="_self">resulting portraits</a> capture creatures as they perform for the camera with a human-like awareness of the lens.</p>
  • <p>A baby flamingo.</p>
  • <p>A young sheep.</p>
  • 01 /43
    | The Other Disney World: A Creepy, Empty Village

    While perusing Google Maps one day, the German-born French photographer Christoph Sillem espied a large circle outside of Paris. It turned out to be a road surrounding Eurodisney. Upon first-hand investigation, he discovered a Disney town modeled on the style of Baron Haussmann, the French urban planner who in the 1860s, Suzanne LaBarre writes, transformed Paris into the "fussy gilded museum it is today."

  • 02 /43

    As these photos reveal, vast sections of it stand empty, like a post-apocalyptic French village.

  • 03 /43

    Read more about the project here.

  • 04 /43
    | Astonishing Tribal Portraiture Taken Using Western Eyes

    Born to a European father and a Guinean mother, the photographer Namsa Leuba has a complicated relationship to colonialism, which she explores in this award-winning series titled Ya Kala Ben, for which she staged natives in her mother’s village as traditional statuettes.

  • 05 /43

    "As a Westerner photographing tribal community members dressed in garb based on ritual tools," Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes, "Leuba plays a game of cultural telephone. … By reimagining the ritual artifacts and capturing them in images, she’s documenting her own biases."

  • 06 /43

    Read more here.

  • 07 /43
    | Check Out NASA’s Amazing New Panoramic Photo Of Mars

    In July, NASA released this panoramic view of Mars, replete with rover tracks and a 14-mile-wide crater where scientists found evidence of ancient water.

  • 08 /43

    The image is a composite of 817 photos taken by the Pancam between December 21, 2011 and May 8, 2012. If our eyes don’t deceive us, humans have already begun to colonize the Red Planet.

  • 09 /43
    | Unexpectedly Sublime Photos Of Empty Motel Pools

    For this series, titled No Life Guard on Duty, J Bennett Fitts, traveled 20,000 miles across the American Southwest to document abandoned motel pools.

  • 10 /43

    Ruin porn? Sure. But as Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes, there’s also "evidence of life, if you look closely: an empty pool filled in with well-manicured grass, or an ant-sized family and their dog crossing over the shimmering L.A. river."

  • 11 /43

    Read more here.

  • 12 /43
    | Would You Recognize Yourself With A Completely Symmetrical Face?

    Regardless of what you may think about beauty being subjective, according to scientific studies, humans are generally more attracted to symmetrical faces. That insight spurred the Australian photographer Julian Wolkenstein to conduct his own experiment: By altering the portraits of his subjects to create perfectly symmetrical visages, he renders them almost unrecognizable.

  • 13 /43

    Check out the rest of the uncanny photos here.

  • 14 /43
    | A Stirring Essay On China’s Longest River

    China’s unchecked growth has meant entire cities being built in the span of a few years. It has also taken an environmental and human toll, with both nature and homes destroyed in the wake of new developments.

  • 15 /43

    The Yangtze river (and its Three Gorges dam, the largest dam in history and a major source of electricity for the rapidly growing country) form the subject of Nadav Kander's series, Yangtze: The Long River, illustrating the devastation and resilient vibrancy surrounding China’s famous waterway.

  • 16 /43

    Read more here.

  • 17 /43
    | Dueling Photogs Share The Same Roll Of Film

    Double exposures are nothing new, but the photographers Stephanie Bassos and Timothy Burkhart have turned the technique into a collaborative effort--and Tumblr page--with each photo containing an image of people shot by Bassos and a landscape snapped by Burkhart.

  • 18 /43

    The resulting compositions are unexpectedly serendipitous, representing, Mark Wilson writes, the "sweet spot where art emerges from chaos."

  • 19 /43

    Read more here.

  • 20 /43
    | High-Speed Photography Turns Water Droplets Into Liquid Sculptures

    The German amateur photographer Markus Reugels has perfected the art of high-speed water-droplet photography, capturing every drop’s conceivable fleeting pose.

  • 21 /43

    See more stunning examples and read about his process here.

  • 22 /43
    | Sh*t Girls Say Now An Arty Photo Series, Not Just A Video

    When the creators of the genius Twitter account that canonized girl-specific questions like "Can you watch my stuff?" and "Should I get bangs?" scored a book deal, the next question became how to translate those utterances into images. The answer: as literally as possible.

  • 23 /43

    See more here.

  • 24 /43
    | England’s Finest Show Birds Proudly Mugging For Their Portraits

    The photographer Luke Stephenson has taken a particular interest in show parakeets (or budgies, as they’re known in Britain), capturing an array of pedigree birds against colored backgrounds that bring out the personality and features of each feathered friend.

  • 25 /43

    Check out his book, An Incomplete History of Show Birds, here.

  • 26 /43

    The Atlantis’s final liftoff last summer immediately triggered our yearning for space exploration’s glory years. In 2009, the sights around Cape Canaveral, shot by David Ryle and collected in his "Space Coast" series, already appeared to be from a nostalgic, Technicolored past.

  • 27 /43

    Read more here.

  • 28 /43
  • 29 /43
    | An Electron Microscope Reveals The Hidden Horrors Of Processed Foods

    The Bay Area–based food photographer Caren Alpert uses the scanning electron microscope to give viewers a really, really close look at what they eat. “I’m not trying to dictate what foods are important or what foods you should like or dislike,” Alpert maintains. “I’m saying, ‘Look at it differently.’” What she’s found is that natural foods show greater chemical complexity than processed foods, which, in the case of this Pop Tart, can also look wholly unappetizing. The series can be seen online here, or at New York’s Citigroup Building (153 E. 53rd St.) through January 31, 2013.

  • 30 /43

    Terra Cibus no. 12: Cake Sprinkles

  • 31 /43

    Terra Cibus no. 5: Salt

  • 32 /43
    | What Jennifer Aniston And Beyonce Would Look Like As Ugly Regular People

    What would Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian, and Jennifer Aniston look like if they had never become famous? These are Danny Evans’s best guesses.

  • 33 /43

    Writes Suzanne LaBarre, "There is sweet justice in taking Photoshop, the very tool that makes celebrities seem so insufferably flawless, and turning it cruelly against them."

  • 34 /43
  • 35 /43
    | Audubon 2.0: Cruelty-Free Portraits Of Amazing Birds

    This image may disturb you, but rest assured, the bird wasn’t harmed in the process. In fact, the net is a relatively humane way for ornithologists to gather the data they need for research, Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes; back in John James Audubon’s day, ornithologists resorted to killing the subject of their studies. The photographer Todd R. Forsgren sets the birds against a white background, against which they seem to display human emotions like fear and anger.

  • 36 /43

    “I’m often surprised by how the personalities of different species of birds change when they’re in the net or hand as opposed to flying free,” the photographer says. "It is a fragile and embarrassing moment before they disappear back into the woods, and into data."

  • 37 /43
    | The Fragile, Fleeting Beauty Of Youth, Seen Through Rineke Dijkstra’s Lens

    The subject of a mid-career retrospective shared between the Guggenheim and SFMoMA earlier this year, Rineke Dijkstra specializes in taking portraits, especially of teenagers, that betray vulnerability. As Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes, the Dutch photographer’s "lens is almost like an emotional X-ray machine, drawing out the fear, joy, and sheer energy of being alive. By letting teenagers play out their carefully constructed public personas, she captures something far more complicated."

  • 38 /43
    | Ten of the Year's Most Amazing Science Photos

    When the Wellcome Collection announced the winners of its 12th annual image awards, we were awestruck by the winners--detailed views of everything from a chicken embryo to human tissue. This is a false-colored scanning electron micrograph of a caffeine crystal.

  • 39 /43

    A chicken embryo.

  • 40 /43

    Connective tissue.

  • 41 /43
    | Warning: Dangerously Cute Animal Portraits Ahead

    The L.A.-based photographer Sharon Montrose specializes in snapping animals removed from their habitats and placed in front of stark white backgrounds. The resulting portraits capture creatures as they perform for the camera with a human-like awareness of the lens.

  • 42 /43

    A baby flamingo.

  • 43 /43

    A young sheep.

What were the defining events of 2012? There were both disasters (superstorm Sandy, Aurora and Newtown, and unabated fighting around the world) and triumphs (Olympic wins, another Democratic presidential term, and the meteoric rise of the Internet meme). While we strive to be topical, we didn’t cover any of those moments on Co.Design—not even McKayla Maroney’s sourpuss expression from the gymnastics floor, or Mitt Romney’s binders full of women. Which isn’t to say that the images we featured aren’t relevant—in fact, taken together, they reflect how technology is impacting how we capture and comprehend the world.

Two compelling trends emerge. Photoshop, once used to create sleight-of-hand versions of a more perfect reality, is now a tool for creating forthright, alternate realities, in which people have perfectly symmetrical faces and celebrities become ordinary people. In contrast, improved microscopic technology has given us the ability to take a close, in-depth look at everything from Pop Tarts to chicken embryos, enhancing our appreciation and understanding of the complexities of nature’s features that can’t be gleaned with the naked eye.

And speaking of nature, we’ve also highlighted the humane tendency to depict animals as sentient creatures, snapped, in the case of Sharon Montrose, in front of a plain white background as if posing for their portraits. So even though we didn’t catalog this year’s memes, we did serve up some cute. We hope that McKayla’s impressed.

loading