Trends of 2021: The year in photos

In 2021, we saw the photography industry attempt to adjust to a changing world, with the cautious reopening of exhibitions for the first time since the pandemic, and the continuing embrace of new voices. Here, Diane Smyth looks back on a complex year

One of the interesting things about photography in 2021 is how the medium itself has been ­represented. You can literally see it. Chanel’s just-launched SS2022 ad campaign is a series of portraits by Inez & Vinoodh showing models acting out modelling, directing, taking photographs; Cartier’s 2021 Tank watch ads prominently feature both cameras and real-life photographers Coco Capitán, Moath Alofi, and Luis Alberto Rodriguez.

Photography is fashionable, it seems, and a current ad campaign by the Leica camera brand may help explain why. Put together by TBWA\Paris, it’s titled The World Deserves Witnesses and features 12 iconic images, each with its own spin on this tagline. There’s a photograph by Joel Meyerowitz showing an older white man seemingly recoiling from a younger Black guy, tagged The Fears of the World Deserve Witnesses, for example. 

There’s also a photograph by Justin Mott showing one of the last two northern White Rhinos and her Kenyan caretaker Zacharia, tagged The Love of the World Deserves Witnesses, and the accompanying campaign microsite features interviews with the imagemakers, focusing on their approaches to storytelling. If 2020 was a year of street protests, in 2021 photography stood out as a means of protesting, and of showing underrepresented perspectives. 

The World Deserves Witnesses ad campaign for Leica, by TBWA\Paris
Top: Installation view of an exhibition at the London Peckham 24 festival on the Archive of Public Protests, a cache of images of Poland’s intense contemporary political environment