2021 will probably always be remembered as “the year that followed 2020”. It was supposed to be its own thing – the beginning of our generation’s roaring 20s. We were supposed to be out clubbing every night, going to polyamorous sex parties and taking brand new post-pandemic party drugs. And obviously there was a lot of that. But there was a lot of other stuff, too.
For one, the pandemic never stopped – it’s still raging across the UK. And while around 47 million of us have been vaccinated, it’s taken a while to get back to feeling “normal” again. Many reported feelings of social anxiety and loneliness in the months post-lockdown. 2021 had us in a double bind: The freedom was there, but we weren't always ready for it.
2021 was also the year of the Sarah Everard vigils, of mass climate change protests, of the carnage of the Euros finals. It was the year of rage, elation, hysteria, expectation, joy and disappointment. 2021 was a year of contradictions. It was… a lot.
With that in mind, we got a bunch of our favourite photographers to send in one photo which they felt best captured 2021.
Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda
I decided to go to this event very last minute. I knew of who was playing at the event, but really didn’t know what I was in for… As soon as the event kicked off, it felt like I was in a trance. Being around other South Asian people in a rave? Class.
Photo: Bex Wade
This image was taken at the “Solidarity Protest,” one of three Palestine protests I documented in May this year. 180,000 protestors filled the streets of London, marching from Hyde Park to the Israeli Embassy in Kensington and it was considered to be one of the largest pro-Palestine demonstrations in British history.
Having swiftly removed myself from a crush of mid-pandemic bodies on the high street, I’d decided to retrace my steps and walk against the crowd still descending into the gridlock. Weaving my way through the protestors, this powerful scene unfolded before me as the group paused, chanting cries of “Free, free Palestine”.
Photo: Charlie Kwai
As part of my work documenting the UK, I visit Margate often. My work suffered immensely because of COVID — but this was the first day it felt good again doing what I do since the summer of 2019.
Photo: Chris Bethell
This image was taken at the vigil for Sarah Everard. Hundreds turned up to peacefully mourn for her, but shortly after nightfall the Metropolitan Police violently attempted to break up the crowd. I witnessed police officers push women backwards over benches, throw others to the ground and trample the flowers placed around the Clapham Common bandstand.
Photo: Ezekial Santos
This photograph was taken in the summer during my first festival with my closest group of friends since 2019. It felt like we were 18 again and we were going clubbing (legally) for the first time. The energy was carnage and as you can imagine, it was a hot mess… but so much fun.
Photo: Heather Glazzard
These photos were taken at one of my first nights out after the lockdown at Big Dyke Energy (BDE). The energy was amazing – the pictures remind me of my first night dancing in public again. Dancing felt so different after not being able to do it in a club for so long. When I was dancing, I didn’t care who was watching anymore, I just cared how I felt.
Photographing the Euros in peak COVID times was chaotic… Whilst most people were isolating from each other, hordes of drunk and drug-fuelled football fans flocked to central London. I feel like the Euros reflect how this year has gone: a massive disappointment. Getting so far, only to be let down by things out of your control.
Photo: Tarique Al-Shabazz
Whether it’s your social life, intimate relationships or even social media, there seems to be an expectation for us to be forever engaging. I wanted to look at how important it is to take time for yourself. You don’t owe anyone anything – especially not your time and space. Being alone is often negatively associated. We need to recognise that there’s a huge difference between being lonely and being alone.
This celebrates those who enjoy their solitude. Those who are quietly working on themselves and those who will return in their own time on their own terms.