Our favorite arts pictures of 2020
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Our favorite arts pictures of 2020
Two masks from "The Strangers" in an undated photo. Photographers for The New York Times captured 2020, relying on their P.P.E. as well as their light meters and lenses to bring us not just the year’s pain but also its pleasures, with glimpses of much-needed triumphs and life-affirming beauty. Have a look. Yael Malka and Cait Oppermann/The New York Times.

by Christy Harmon, Laura O’Neill, Jolie Ruben, Elena Santos, Amanda Webster, Jessie Wender and Michael Cooper

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The magenta glow of an exhibition outside the Guggenheim Museum, whose white spiral was off-limits to art lovers. The deserted grand staircase of a Metropolitan Opera silenced by the pandemic, its Sputnik chandeliers with no crowds to illuminate. Movie buffs, barred from cinemas, enjoying films at least semi-communally at a drive-in.

Yes, there was absence and apartness and pain as this most socially distant of years upended art and culture. But with hindsight, 2020 had many other things to say, too, as this selection of some of our favorite arts photography published this year by The New York Times makes clear.

Photographers for The New York Times captured it all, relying on their PPE as well as their light meters and lenses to bring us not just the year’s pain but also its pleasures, with glimpses of much-needed triumphs and life-affirming beauty. Have a look.

“I wanted to make an image that spoke to the quiet tension of being confined to a small space with your loved one. Little did I know, many of us would soon be experiencing this intensity of closeness during the pandemic.”

— Philip Montgomery on photographing Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in February

“It was a trip to a parallel reality — one I long for — where the boundaries of gender disappear and freedom finally arises.”

— Camila Falquez on photographing Manuel Liñán and his dance company

“Chris wasn’t the only person in the pool fully clothed. To get the shot, I got in there with him and happily rode back to the city sopping wet.”

— Dana Scruggs on photographing Chris Rock

“Looking back, it’s hard to believe that this image is from 2020. It felt like a meditation.”

— Sasha Arutyunova on photographing a dance rehearsal in February


SPOTLIGHT ‘The New Saturday Night’

Saturday night is a time of mythic potential and mundane reality. It’s a fantasy space that only opens at the height of the weekend. We asked 33 photographers to show us the world on the weekend. What they found was the new Saturday night.


“I loved sitting in on the intimacy of Jane getting into her character in the silence and calmness before the show begins.”

— Yael Malka on photographing Jane Alexander

“She was leaning on an aluminum foil spaceship that her kids made. The shiny blue emoji pillow in the background matched her outfit.”

— Rosie Marks on photographing Róisín Murphy

“He came into the shoot just loaded with energy and had such intense charisma. You can see how his exuberant personality is channeled into his movies.”

— Philip Montgomery on photographing Martin Scorsese

“I had an idea to shoot Jerry pressed up against glass, that goofy old trick that makes a portrait look trapped in a frame, only it would be Seinfeld trapped in the TV. So I said ‘Jerry, do you have any indoor windows,’ imagining a French door or something along those lines. He looked at me like I was out of my mind for a long second and said, in the world’s Seinfeldy-est voice, ‘What?! All windows are indoors!’ Click. After that he muted me. Perfection.”

— Daniel Arnold on photographing Jerry Seinfeld via FaceTime

“It allowed me to meet some incredible artists from the African continent and to photograph them in a town that is so linked to the old South Africa.”

— Kent Andreasen on photographing the first Stellenbosch Triennale

“I loved her playfulness and warm charisma.”

— Ana Cuba on photographing Jessie Ware

“As soon as I walked into that salon on Doyers Street, I was transported to my childhood. This woman with curlers in her hair feels like a time capsule of old Chinatown, yet the mask reminds us that it’s 2020.”

— Alex Lau on photographing Chinatown

“I immediately felt the epic-ness of her way of seeing in this world.”

— Aubrey Trinnaman on photographing Mary Lovelace O’Neal


SPOTLIGHT ‘Sources of Self Regard’

In our Sources of Self Regard feature, the Times asked Black photographers to reflect on America with their self-portraits. “Being a visual artist is the ultimate resistance to invisibility,” said Carlos Javier Ortiz, one of the project’s contributors.


“I thought about the concept of time, and what it meant to have time in today’s world, and specifically at the beginning of lockdown.”

— Tania Franco Klein on photographing the experience of watching the film “1900”

“On the calm residential street where her studio was located, Jehnny stood out like a sore thumb. Her neighbor peered out the balcony, but seemed just as unperturbed as she was.”

— Maxime La on photographing Jehnny Beth

“I chased after his hands, imagining them like strokes of a painter’s touch.”

— Mustafah Abdulaziz on photographing Roderick Cox

“This is about the gentleness of Brian. Lost in himself a little — maybe finding solace in his own thoughts.”

— Kalpesh Lathigra on photographing Brian Eno

“I knew immediately I wanted to find the quiet and intimacy within their relationship.”

— Ryan Pfluger on photographing Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn

“The sidewalks were silent, there was no traffic, and the majority of shops and businesses were closed. It was incredible to be able to appreciate the city without the rush of people, but at the same time terrifying when you stopped to think of why it was so quiet.”

— Vincent Tullo on photographing the financial district during lockdown

“She was a warm and inviting light, excitedly taking me through her work and her studio.”

— Heather Sten on photographing Virginia Jaramillo

“Time slowed down and the chaos was instantly calmed by his presence.”

— Ramona Rosales on photographing John Malkovich

“This was Spike doing what Spike does best: Directing. He told me where to stand and when to take the picture. Of course, I listened.”

— Andre D. Wagner on photographing Spike Lee



In our visual series The Take, we asked photographers to explore this year’s cultural themes, capturing the everyday and the surreal.


“A beautiful, charming subject, a farm filled with animals and great light.”

— Molly Matalon on photographing Amanda Seyfried

“It was the first time I cried through a shoot.”

— Sasha Arutyunova on photographing “Afterwardsness”

“The last time I photographed her she was pregnant, and this year I got to meet her son, Gene, through Zoom!”

— Heather Sten on photographing Amy Schumer

“A nice thing about a crowded city is that things eventually tend to line up if you pay attention long enough.”

— Daniel Arnold on photographing Times Square after Broadway’s shutdown

“This is the only image I had in mind coming into the shoot. I wanted the viewer to feel close and personal to him.”

— Victor Llorente on photographing David Letterman

“Seeing the students push regardless of what’s available to them really inspired me.”

— Stephen Tayo on photographing the Leap of Dance Academy

“I look back on this image now and it makes me miss Broadway and what made it so magical.”

— Krista Schlueter on photographing Patrick Vaill, who played Jud Fry for 13 years

“I waited until the sun went down and the color came. The light let me think of an oasis that brings life into the city.”

— Jeenah Moon on photographing the Guggenheim’s “Countryside” exhibition

“The hospitals and morgues were filling up, but the flowers at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden were undeterred.”

— Bryan Derballa on photographing the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

“With their Halloween masks on, this moment between my wife and son went from quiet and tender to frightful and strange — but still the gentleness of the relationship shone through.”

— Landon Nordeman on photographing his family wearing horror masks

“When I arrived, the makeshift stage in their parking lot exuded this sense of joy that I hadn’t experienced in a couple of months.”

— Jared Soares on photographing N’Ferno Performing Arts Center recital

“I wanted the image to be reminiscent of a Walker Evans portrait. The kind where the sun casts a heavy shadow on the face but you can see the personality of the subject in the shadows.”

— Jake Michaels on photographing Jesse Plemons

“Five minutes after I shot this photo, a roaring thunderstorm rolled in with winds so strong it knocked out the power.”

— Daniel Dorsa on photographing the Warwick Drive-In

“It was the first time either of us had really interacted with someone in public since COVID-19 hit, so it became a strange collaboration of what would normally be an ordinary situation.”

— Ryan Pfluger on photographing Mike Hadreas

“We fell into a collaborative rhythm and appreciated the opportunity to work on something that felt a bit more abstract and playful during a time of so much uncertainty.”

— Cait Oppermann and Yael Malka on photographing horror masks

“You can see Bob Ross’ influence lasting and repeating throughout different generations and people from all walks of life. It was funny to see Bob adjusting Bob’s hair as if in an infinity mirror.”

— Evan Jenkins on photographing the “Bob Ross Experience”

“I made a joke about needing to work on my directing skills as a photographer and he replied, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, directors have no clue what they’re ever talking about.’”

— Mark Mahaney on photographing Francis Ford Coppola

“Usually, photo shoots at the Met Opera are pretty hectic but on this occasion, I had no one rushing me. I had access to most of the building and went into rooms I would have never thought of.”

— Victor Llorente on photographing the Metropolitan Opera

“In a time of isolation, being able to move my body and to see myself was a powerful way of coming back to life.”

— Camila Falquez on trying Merce Cunningham’s solo “50 Looks”

“You don’t always get to make a connection with someone with such a packed schedule, but Antonio really let me in.”

— Ryan Lowry on photographing Antonio Banderas

“We went to a vacant lot, unpacked copious amounts of glitter, wigs and other rainbow paraphernalia, and then just let Mark do his thing.”

— Daniel Jack Lyons on photographing Mark Kanemura

“The sun was blazing and Jeff just closed his eyes and threw his head back. He said that staring at a bright light through closed eyelids was John Wayne’s technique for not squinting under bright Hollywood lights.”

— Evan Jenkins on photographing Jeff Daniels

“There are obvious limitations without physically being present for a portrait session as there is no sense of periphery and there is no real engagement with the subject but I was able to make it feel as though I was there as much as possible.”

— Devin Oktar Yalkin on photographing Howardena Pindell

“I’m on a step stool, half in a bush, photographing a New York City Ballet principal through an open window, thinking, ‘How did I get here?’”

— Kim Raff on photographing Megan Fairchild

“The power of this picture is that it looks like she is being swallowed alive. The success of this dance and this setting is that it forces us to consider the extraordinary losses as a result of the pandemic.”

— Sara Krulwich on photographing Eiko Otake

“I went door to door on our block to warn folks that they might hear some screaming coming from our yard that afternoon, and not to worry since it’s a portrait photo shoot, no one is getting murdered. The reactions were hilarious; one neighbor actually bent over he was laughing so hard.”

— Maggie Shannon on photographing Susan Boyajian

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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