The Critics’ Choice Awards are like no other. We ask experts to dig into thousands of entries from across the globe to select their top three personal favorites. There’s no jurying as a panel, just essential picks brought to you straight from the gallery directors, photo editors, publishers, and art directors making their way through so many phenomenal submissions.
This year brought us images from photographers in over 150 countries. The 21 critics have spoken, choosing 49 from the bunch whose standout photos and series captured their hearts. There are poignant reflections on the pandemic, both intimate and collective; diaristic and social documentary projects, from desert dwellers living off the grid to queer political refugees in Berlin; sculptural objects and cross-stitched photographs; candid and constructed images; contemporary abstraction and conceptual photography; ruminations about climate change, identity, and family narratives.
The selections run the gamut, representing the breadth and vitality of contemporary photography around the world. We invite you to explore the critics’ choices and find out why they were drawn to the images they selected. It’s your chance to discover some great new photography from around the world — and glean insight and inspiration from great minds in photography.
The photographer, TJ Watt, writes: “It was gut-wrenching to retrace my steps and photograph the remains of those same ancient trees I once knew. But I felt it was necessary to expose the destruction that others like them still face.”
Ada Takahashi is a principal with the Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco. She joined the gallery in 1986. Takahashi focuses on the gallery’s curatorial efforts, liaising with artists, and on the gallery’s presence at international art fairs. The Koch Gallery program emphasizes contemporary photography as well as experimental work from the 1920s and 1930s. In recent years, the gallery’s exhibitions have included work by Edward Burtynsky, Michael Wolf, Robert Heinecken, Kenneth Josephson, Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb, Tamas Dezso, and Mimi Plumb. The contemporary program is shaped by a desire to expand the dialogue around significant aesthetic and social issues of our time, an aim that is shared by many of the gallery’s artists.
Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo (B. 1985, Mexico City) is a Mexican-Italian independent curator and director of Morán Morán Gallery in Mexico City. She received her BA in Film and Television from CENTRO University in 2008. Her professional experience begins with working in the film and documentary industry, mostly in production. Her interest in the convergence of cinema with other artistic disciplines led her to a curatorial position at the Cineteca Nacional: the conception, curatorship, management and programming of Room 7, a project dedicated to approach and reflect on cinema through multimedia exhibitions. In addition, she was curatorial assistant and development coordinator for the inaugural exhibition at the Cineteca Nacional’s Cinema Museum, now La Galería. She was also curatorial assistant and development coordinator for the Mexico Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, represented by Ariel Guzik and curated by Itala Schmelz. In 2015, she was an apprentice curator at the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, where she worked with Mentor Joseph Melillo during a year of mentoring exchange. From 2013 till 2016 She was the curator and exhibition coordinator at the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City in which she was part of the Research and Curatorial Seminar: Technology, Audiovisual Media and Artistic Experimentation, where she curated the Niérika: Lilly Archive exhibition together with Anahí Luna and Arden Decker. A few other curatorial projects include Fotomuro vol. I, vol. II (collectives) and 1440 by Diego Berruecos; Casa Estudiantil Octubre Rojo with photographer Eunice Adorno at the Tlatelolco Cultural Center as well as Desandar in collaboration with the same photographer in the Museo de la Ciudad de México; Sentido de Forma, a collective show organized for Fundación CALOSA in Irapuato.
Alona Pardo has been a Curator at Barbican Art Gallery in London for nearly 15 years. With a focus on photography and film, she has curated a number of exhibitions and publications including most recently Masculinities: Liberation through Photography (2020); Trevor Paglen: From Apple to Anomaly (2019); Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing (2018); Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds (2018); Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins (2018); Richard Mosse: Incoming (2017) and Strange and Familiar: Britain as seen by International Photographers (with Martin Parr; 2016). She has a particular interest in work that exists in the intersection between social activism, aesthetics and identity.
Andrew Katz is the Deputy Director of Photography at TIME. He co-manages a team of editors; assigns and collaborates with photographers around the world; pitches and produces covers, photo essays and features; and curates @time’s Instagram account. He came to TIME in 2013 as a reporter and later served as a news editor. Since joining the photography department in 2015, he has supported photojournalists on (or above) every continent and produced portraits with more than a dozen presidents and prime ministers, the U.N. Secretary-General and the Dalai Lama. The resulting work has been recognized by the American Society of Magazine Editors, World Press Photo, Visa pour l'Image, Overseas Press Club, Pictures of the Year International and more. In 2021, he was a POYi finalist for Visual Editor of the Year.
Anna Alexander is Director of Photography at WIRED in San Francisco. She’s been producing photo shoots and commissioning WIRED photographers for approximately twenty years. She took a hiatus from WIRED as the Photo Director at Dwell from 2011-2013. Anna has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the University of Arizona. Anna resides in the Marin County city of Novato with her husband and two children.
Caroline Hunter is a picture editor for The Guardian Weekend magazine. Caroline has 20 years experience of commissioning photography (from concept to celebrity, portraiture, still-life, beauty, fashion and documentary photography) and reviewing photo-essays and proposals. Caroline is regularly invited to review portfolios at international photo festivals and has also acted as a judge for a number of photography competitions. In 2017, she was a nominator for the Deutsche Börse prize.
Chloe Coleman is an award-winning photo editor at The Washington Post, currently on the international news desk working with photographers worldwide. She is a contributing writer and editor on the Washington Post’s In Sight photo blog where she has written about and featured contemporary photography, photo books and exhibitions. Her career in photo editing began on the visual desk at NPR, followed by The Denver Post. She attended the Columbus College of Art and Design and is a graduate of the photojournalism program at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Chloe also serves as a faculty member at The Kalish Visual Editing Workshop.
Chris Pichler founded Nazraeli Press in Munich, Germany in 1989. In 1997, the press moved to the United States and in 2002 opened a subsidiary in the United Kingdom. Nazraeli Press has published over 500 books on the fine and applied arts with an emphasis on contemporary photography. The books are distributed throughout the world. Pichler edits and designs most of the books published by Nazraeli. He is known for his unorthodox use of common materials—such as papers, wood, plastic, metals—and for introducing elements of handiwork into otherwise mass-produced objects. The press’s award-winning books have themselves been the subject of exhibitions and books about books.
Elena Boille is deputy editor-in-chief and photo editor of the magazine Internazionale. Boille graduated with a degree in history of art and she co-founded, in 1993, the Italian news magazine Internazionale. She has judged many photo competitions and participated in portfolio reviews; Boille also teaches photo editing workshops and taught a photo editing class at Luiss Business School in Rome.
Internazionale is a weekly magazine that selects and translates the best journalistic stories from around the world and brings them to an Italian-speaking audience. Every issue features a photographic portfolio, which focuses mainly on long-term projects. Along with photojournalistic and documentary stories, it publishes personal works, conceptual series and more.
Elisa Medde edits, curates and writes about photography. With a background in Art History, Iconology and Photographic Studies, her research reflects on the relationship between image, communication and power structures. She has been nominator for the Prix Elysée, The Leica Oskar Barnack Award and MAST Foundation for Photography Grant, amongst others. Elisa has chaired numerous juries and written for Foam Magazine, Something We Africans Got, Vogue Italia / L'Uomo Vogue, YET Magazine and other publications. Elisa is Editor-in-Chief of Foam Magazine, Amsterdam.
Enrico Stefanelli is the founder and artistic director of Photolux Festival, the biennial of photography in Lucca, Italy. He has curated several exhibitions including: Tim Hetherington, Jan Saudek, Horst P. Horst, VII Agency, Nobuyoshy Araki, Boris Mikhailov and David Douglas Duncan. Since 2010, he is the Italian curator of the European Photo Exhibition Award. Enrico is a photographer and journalist and teaches photography in workshops. He has written articles and contributions on photography for several catalogs, books and magazines. He participates in portfolio reviews around the world, serves on international photography juries, and is a member of the nominating committee for the Joop Swart Masterclass at World Press Photo.
Eslah Attar is a visual storyteller from the suburbs of Ohio where she studied photojournalism and documented immigration in her community. Prior to joining The New York Times as a photo editing fellow, she worked at National Geographic as an associate photo editor. Before then, she worked at National Public Radio as a photo editor and photographer.
Irina Chmyreva is Co-founder and Artistic Director of PhotoVisa, Russia’s largest, international photography biennial outside Moscow. PhotoVisa had taken place since 2008 every October in city Krasnodar (South of Russia), since 2020 the festival has biennial format. The festival consists of an extensive exhibition program, international portfolio review, multimedia projections, lectures, workshops and an international juried contest. The PhotoVisa contest is still annual and free of charge, it is announced at web-site.
Irina has curated more than a hundred exhibitions worldwide. During past years she collaborated with several state and private museums in Moscow and other Russian cities, where she presented both national and international contemporary artists. From 2011 to 2015, she was the senior curator of Project in Support for Photography in Russia run by the IRIS Foundation. Irina was also part of the international team of curators who organized the FotoFest 2012 Biennial, Contemporary Russian Photography: 1950s-2012 in Houston, USA. In 2014, Irina was a jury member for the Hasselblad Award. For twelve years she was a member of the international editorial board for the independent art magazine European Photography.
For the past eleven years Irina has been working as a leading researcher (Ph.D.) at the Russian Academy of Arts, National Institute of Theory and History of Art, Moscow. She is teaching in Russian and foreign high-schools and university programs on photo editing and visual communication. As photo editor, Irina has been involved in several book projects and has published a great number of portfolios in different offline and online resources.
Jim Casper is the editor-in-chief of LensCulture, one of the leading online destinations to discover contemporary photography from around the world. As an active member in the contemporary photography world, Casper organizes annual international photography events, travels around the world to meet with photographers and review their portfolios, curates art exhibitions, writes about photography and culture, lectures, conducts workshops, serves as an international juror and nominator for key awards, and is an advisor to arts and education organizations.
Joanna Milter is the director of photography for The New Yorker, overseeing all photography for the print and digital versions of the magazine, in addition to Photo Booth, the magazine’s photo blog. Since she joined The New Yorker, in 2015, the magazine’s photography has been recognized by World Press Photo, the Society of Publication Designers, and American Photography, and has received a National Magazine Award for Feature Photography.
Previously, Joanna spent eleven years as a photo editor at The New York Times Magazine; for the last four of those years, she was the deputy photo editor.
Since 2010, Manolis Moresopoulos has been the artistic director of the Athens Photo Festival, a leading international festival of photography and visual culture. In and beyond this role, Manolis has been responsible for numerous exhibitions and photography-related activities, including book projects, learning activities, artist exchange programs, and talent development initiatives. Over the past few years he has served as nominator, juror and reviewer for many international festivals and organisations, and regularly lectures on the theory and practice of photography. Manolis is always looking for new or emerging artists working with photography for possible future collaborations.
Mirjam Cavegn is the founder of Bildhalle, one of the most respected galleries for photography in Switzerland. Interested in both established and emerging innovative contemporary photographers, Mirjam shapes an ambitious gallery program through solo and group exhibitions as well as participation in international art fairs. Previously, she developed photo books for international publishing houses and was photo editor for various media companies.
Robert Morat is the owner and director of Robert Morat Gallery in Berlin. The gallery program focuses on emerging and mid-career positions in contemporary photography, representing artists such aa Christian Patterson, Ron Jude, Jessica Backhaus, Bertien van Manen, Hans Christian Schink, Lia Darjes, Mårten Lange, Simon Roberts, Andrea Grützner and many others. Robert, an art historian, went to Journalism School and started out as an editor working for magazines, newspapers and TV. He opened the gallery in Hamburg in 2004 and started showing at international art fairs in 2007. Today, the gallery is a regular exhibitor at art fairs such as PARIS PHOTO, UNSEEN Amsterdam or Photo London. In 2009, Robert became a member of AIPAD, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, and served as a director and member of the board from 2010 to 2015. In 20015 the gallery relocated to Berlin and is found today on Linienstrasse in the Mitte art district, showing an alternating program of represented artists, guest exhibitors (John Divola (2019), Max Pinckers (2020)), book presentations and artist talks.
Whitney Johnson is the Vice President of Visuals and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic. Prior to that she worked at the Open Society Foundations. She has taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and the International Center of Photography.
Xavier Soule is the CEO of Abvent Group and president and director of Agence VU’, one of the most renowned agencies and galleries for photographers in France and Europe. The aim of Galerie VU’ is to affirm, on the walls, the diversity of contemporary stylistic photographic approaches, and to compare and contrast current viewpoints, so they can dialogue with their differences. Galerie VU’ works like any other commercial gallery: it is simultaneously a space for exhibiting and selling collectors’ editions, offering monograph approaches as well as hosting authors’ dialogues, group and thematic approaches. As a collector himself, Xavier is interested in a wide array of photography. From art pieces to documentary reports, he is particularly interested in cutting-edge photojournalism and contemporary photography that offer innovative approaches to expand our visual understanding of the world, people and light.
Yumi Goto is an independent photography curator, editor, researcher, consultant, educator and publisher who focuses on the development of cultural exchanges that transcend borders.
She collaborates with local and international artists who live and work in areas affected by conflict, natural disasters, current social problems, human rights abuses and women’s issues. She often works with human rights advocates, international and local NGOs, and humanitarian organizations as well as being involved as a nominator and juror for international photographic organizations, festivals and events.
She is now based in Tokyo and is also a co-founder and curator for the Reminders Photography Stronghold, which is a curated membership gallery space in Tokyo enabling a wide range of photographic activities.
Congratulations to all 49 winning photographers! And sincere thanks to every photographer who participated, and to each of the experts who contributed their time and expertise.