Image by David Uzochukwu shows two figures lying in water with the characteristics of a sea creature

Trends of 2022: The year in photography

As the world struggles with grim realities, from climate change to war, to a cost of living crisis, photographers are finding new ways to articulate today’s many challenges

Covid is (hopefully) on the way out and life has got back to normal in Britain; even so, 2022 was deeply troubling. The pandemic didn’t close schools this year, but climate change did, the temperature reaching 40 degrees in the UK for the first time, smashing records reached in only 2019. The UK also faced the biggest squeeze on living standards in a century, while elsewhere Russia invaded Ukraine, the far right got into government in Sweden and Italy, and Pakistan experienced catastrophic floods.

As my son sheltered in place and logged onto Minecraft for yet another virtual playdate, I pondered the role of images in contemporary lives, the extent to which we’re escaping into another reality while the world outside crashes and burns. Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse may turn out to be a flop, the company currently making 11,000 redundancies and its research initiative Reality Labs losing over nine billion dollars in a year, but you don’t have to go full Matrix to think things are turning fantastical.

In some ways, that could be exciting. Britain’s hit show this year was the Hayward Gallery’s In the Black Fantastic, which proposed speculative fiction as a way of envisaging new possibilities, via the work of 11 contemporary artists from the African diaspora. The exhibition included many different mediums but photography and screen-based images made up a good chunk, from Wangechi Mutu’s mashup collages to Lina Iris Viktor’s richly embellished self-portraits and Rashaad Newsome’s CGI-augmented video art. Artists working with the Black Fantastic propose dynamic alternative futures, wrote curator Ekow Eshun in the catalogue, far from the West’s current ways of thinking and being.

“Instead of the West’s stifling vision of reality – with its correlates of ‘truth’, ‘facts’, and ‘power’, the Black Fantastic looks to self-fashioned fictions, mythic worlds, African-originated knowledge systems, and spiritual practices as a means of liberation,” he wrote.

Image by David Uzochukwu shows the shape of a person's face rendered in a coral-like texture
Top and above: by David Uzochukwu

It’s easy to see how work by other Black imagemakers might fit this schema, and the exhibition catalogue draws on many who are not in the show. Eshun references popular entertainment such as the Black Panther film franchise, for example, whose second instalment has just opened. He also references David Uzochukwu, an Austrian-Nigerian imagemaker who lives and works in Brussels and Berlin. Born in 1998, Uzochukwu shot to fame aged just 17, when he photographed FKA twigs for a Nike campaign, and has since developed a series of images titled Mare Monstrum, which features fantastical mermen, complete with tails and fins, to rethink the relationship between Black people and the sea.