Some images have such a powerful impact that they stay with you even after closing your eyes. And when you open them again, it’s as if you see the world in a different way. That’s the case with these, our pick of the photos that moved us most this year. Our visual director Marta Julia Johansen shares her favourites.
The lives around Ganga Ma (main image)
“Giulio Di Sturco’s series, Ganga Ma, truly speaks for itself and requires little introduction. It is an experience that must be felt. The profound connection between the community along the Ganges and the viewer makes this series incredibly captivating and worthy of revisiting time and again. I feel a certain calmness in these images — and a tremendous amount of beauty. The Ganges River becomes the storyteller of its community, intimately intertwined with their lives. This series feels like a dream one hesitates to awaken from. In this specific portrait, a man stands amid what I imagine to be toxic foam, shedding light on the serious issues we as humans have imposed upon the river. It captures the tragic decline of life within the river while also embodying a poignant form of decay, showcasing both the darkness and a peculiar kind of beauty.”
Queer ecology tells us our world has always been in metamorphosis
“Discovering Kristina E. Knipe’s ‘Talisman’ series at the Copenhagen Photo Festival was an enchanting experience. The play of light across the scenes and the Baroque-inspired vibe immediately grabbed my attention. I found the portrayal of these two young individuals particularly captivating — they seem to engage the viewer with a confident allure, fostering a sense of connection.
What truly fascinated me was the technical finesse embedded in the portraits — the interplay of light, fabric folds in the garment drapings — made me think of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Doors of perception’ where he finds the universe in the fold of his jeans. The gestures, and symbolic nuances in this series and photograph are such a treat for the eyes. These elements echo the meticulous craftsmanship reminiscent of Baroque pioneers like Giovanna Garzoni and Vermeer. Knipe’s work skillfully evokes the allure and attention to detail found in the artistry of that era.”
Behind the celebrity snapshots
“David Byrne and Talking Head’s music has been a part of my life soundtrack since I was a child. So it was a great honour for us at 5 to get an interview with the musician, cultural icon and climate activist himself. I love this portrait Clement Pascal did of him, sitting at his studio desk in New York. It’s hard to find a more iconic New Yorker than Byrne and this portrait really gets us close to the person behind the public figure. I love portraits that take us beyond the public gaze — it just becomes much more personal. You can just feel Byrne has something to tell the world, which he luckily always has. And most importantly, it’s almost always hopeful.”
Shifting perspectives: exploring life on Earth from a new angle
“Perspective is everything. As a visual director, I always strive to find that friction in imagery where the audience can understand and see the planet from a new perspective. This portrait of a hunting owl is simply awe-inspiring and makes me feel like I’m about to become tonight’s dinner. Well done on capturing this. There is so much drama and tension in this moment, it’s incredible.”
Explore the series here
Portraiture at its finest
“Tobias Nicolai took this portrait of the Danish artist duo Studio ThinkingHand a few months ago for our art-focused interview. ThinkingHand is one of the most interesting up-and-coming artists on the Danish scene right now and their work with themes such as biodiversity, science, nature and evolution is really captivating. In this series – Tobias takes us beyond traditional portraiture and with his incredible way of working with documentary photo combined with lifestyle and staging — he takes some of the most captivating portraits in Denmark at the moment. He is definitely one to watch.”
Capturing pigeons — a misunderstood crowd
“This charming series featuring seemingly ordinary birds, often overlooked or even scorned in our daily urban tapestry, has a peculiar allure. Commonly derided as flying rats ridden with diseases, there is a grain of truth in such jests. Yet, this collection offers a transformative lens, presenting these creatures in a refreshing new light. Picture it as a haute-couture makeover akin to Alexander McQueen’s avant-garde designs — infused with the essence of New York’s distinctive personalities. One can almost envision an animated Pixar version, where these pigeons take centre stage. Count me in for the premiere weekend! Pixar: you’re welcome. Just call me.”
A ladybird’s message
“Photographing Tori Choi was such a pleasure, photographer Emli Bendixen told me. They wanted to capture Tori’s passion for nature as a catalyst for mental health and wellbeing. So the Bristol Botanical Garden was a perfect setting in the town Tori is living in. From the onset, a ladybird sat herself on Tori’s hand and stayed there throughout the entire shoot around the garden. As if she was telling us, ‘Thanks for listening — thanks for speaking up about the beauty of our precious home that is our planet.’ This portrait is my favourite of the series, and you can just see a glimpse of the ladybird on Tori’s finger. Makes me smile every time.”
A mother and her eggs
“The world opens up when we see it in different perspectives. Get ready to be amazed by these incredible snapshots showcasing the fascinating wildlife of our oceans. I love getting closer to things and photography can help us do that. This picture captures life on so many different levels. It was hard to choose a single image from this series, I really recommend you to see them all — on a big screen as possible.” The series us from this year’s Ocean Photography of the Year competition and is indeed a must-sea.
Can a shared interspecies moment become a piece of fine art?
“There is a stillness in this picture — a moment of solitude that I almost find utopic in the busy life I live in the middle of Copenhagen. I cannot imagine a more wholesome moment to sit there and have a talk with this cow. It reminds me of the fact that I should do less and be more. Every time I look at this image, it feels almost as abstract as a fine art piece in a museum — as if it is all but a dream. But it does not have to be. We can actually choose to be still — and to connect with animals instead of seeing them as products. Yana’s portrayal of animals and humanity’s connection to nature and other living beings is genuinely inspiring. I must have more of that in the new year ahead.”
Where pop-culture meets the climate space
“This photoshoot was definitely one of the highlights of the year for me. We teamed up with Danish pop-duo GENTS for a project bridging the climate crisis agenda and music. Gents was part of our collaboration together with Music Declares Emergency — a UK-based NGO working with musical stars as ambassadors for the climate agenda. So who else to ask to shoot these fine young gents than Danish pop-cultural photographer number 1, Petra Kleis. Petra has shot some of the most iconic people in Denmark and abroad and has a creative direction like no one else in the scene at the moment. I think the whole series turned out amazingly, but this image really stood out. If you happen to be in Denmark before March and want to see this portrait in person, go visit Petra’s solo show at The Danish Museum of National History, where it’s part of her first solo exhibition.”
Coachella for… solar panels?
“At first glance you would think this arial photo is a glimpse of an iconic music festival like Coachella at sunset, on a bright night. Surely the middle must be a stage and the shimmering lights are guests dancing around the festival area. But then you look closer — and reality hits you. It is actually a gathering — but for solar panels. This crazy and somehow uncanny image of solar fields is both fascinating and a bit dystopian when you think about it. Is this our future? Covering the world with solar panels like we will be all but reflections towards the sun? It reminds me of one of my favourite author Philip K. Dicks’s quote: Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
The gentle portraits of life on the roof of the Earth
“Kin Kin Coedel’s pictures are a dreamy escape from reality as most of us know it. Yet, this is not a dream at all. During a period of two years, Kin Coedel visited the Tibetan plateau, 3,200 metres above sea level, portraying nomadic communities who have lived with and off the land for centuries. He captures beauty in its purest, softest form, delicately portraying femininity, intimacy, and the essence of nature. It is hard to describe my fascination for this image — it’s almost impossible to describe the immense beauty of our tiny, yet infinite universe. So I will try to be quiet and let it speak for itself.”
Intimacy in the Ordinary
Yet another image from Kin Coedels series. Most of these portraits in the series, Dyal Thak are taken in the remote village of Ritoma in Tibet, in a women-led community of weavers, spinners and wool-felters. Kin’s portraiture is so tender and filled with warmth and amusement. “I want to offer stories that are closer to everyday lives, magical moments and intimacy in the ordinary.” Kin told The Independent Photographer. And in his work – this does very much come through.
“Brendan George Ko’s series on monarch butterflies requires no introduction. It is undeniably a stunning work of art in my opinion. Witnessing such a vast gathering of butterflies in one place is an awe-inspiring sight I had never encountered before. The grand scale of their migration journey is truly impressive and leaves you yearning for more. I highly recommend exploring this series, which includes additional videos, as it presents butterflies in a way you’ve never seen them before.”
Source and resource
“I had been wanting to collaborate with photographer Pat Martins for a while. So, when we started working with climate-fashion activist Aditi Mayer, I immediately knew I wanted Martins to join us. His mastery of light and use of the film camera create a magical atmosphere on set. I adore this photograph, not only for its visual appeal but also because it conveys Aditi’s important message: how we should perceive fashion as a product of land and labour. It serves as a reminder that what we wear is a natural resource.”
“Why don’t we do more splits for sunrise, actually? When I see an image like this, I feel like I’m missing out on a profound sense of wellness. It’s filled with humour and prompts us to question why we’re not all engaging in such practices every morning. Zuojian Wang did a fantastic job capturing this moment. I mean — what are we waiting for?” The images was part of this years Sony World Photography Awards.
“I am a big fan of macro photography. It offers a unique perspective that challenges our limited human point of view. It’s exhilarating to witness the intricate details of creatures, plants, and their surroundings through the close-up lens. Imagine being an ant and having these fellas as your next door neighbour – in my next life, please let me be an insect. In this context, Eric Cho serves as a remarkable example of a photographer who captivates us with his awe-inspiring focus on micro fungi and their fascinating appearances.”
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We’re able to tell stories like this because of people like you. Join others from around the world in supporting Imagine5’s mission towards a sustainable future. Become a member, or donate what you can. Find out more here