These are my favorite ten photos from 2016. Each image tells a story.

The cold hard truth of photography (and maybe you artists out there can relate) is that I’m really only happy with about .0003% of the images I make. I took 20,000 to 30,000 photos in 2016; I feel like I only shot, well, maybe ten great images over the course of the year. The shots below are the mashing of important variables: emotion, depth, color, composition and story. If I forced you to sit down on my couch, drink a pot of coffee, and look through my best photos of 2016, this is where I would start.

I shot a story in El Talchocote, Nicaragua about a hepatitis outbreak in a small community. The culprit? Nearly every source of water in the community tested positive for the disease. Adelada was one of the children who contracted hepatitis, survived and made a full recovery. During my time with Adelada, for whatever reason, I couldn’t for the life of me pronounce her name correctly. Finally, in the afternoon heat, she grabbed my pen, wrote her name on her hand, and then smiling, proceeded to point at it every time I struggled to say it. It’s a nice memory and story, and this photo takes me back to Nicaragua almost instantly. I’m relieved Adelada made a full recovery–she went back to being a giggly teenage girl and this photo reminds me of that.
On a family vacation to Victoria, British Columbia, my mom, wife, sister, and sister-in-law huddle against the wind coming off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In the distance, you can see the jagged black mountains of Washington, USA. It was a week of relaxation, exploration, ferries, cold wind, clam chowder, and rocky shores.
I met Nophun (pronounced “no fun”) while on assignment on Sumba Island, Indonesia back in April. He kept practicing his karate moves with a friend. They would karate chop the air furiously, throw their legs towards inanimate objects, make whooshing noises, and look to see if I was still watching. I started to mimic their moves and they thought that was hilarious. They let me take a few pictures when they knew I had the same secret skills. That’s when I shot this: a simple moment between two friends practicing fight moves in the humid jungles of East Indonesia.
I had the honor of shooting photos for my Grandfather’s wedding back in August. It was a small ceremony, with just children in attendance. I was one of the few grandchildren who was there: my photography had landed me a behind-the-scenes look into my Grandfather’s small wedding. I thought for a long time about the wedding afterward, what it meant for these two new extended families, and realized that love, complicated and beautiful, can grow at any age.
This past year I grappled with the poverty side of child photography. It’s so important for us in more developed nations to see and understand the impact of poverty in the lives of children. It can be hard to shoot visually, while still maintaining the dignity of a child. A rule of thumb in the form of a question: would a mother be proud of this photo? Or would I be embarrassed to show this to a mother? This past year I spent some time with children living in abject poverty, photographing their lives, meeting their families, and stepping into their shoes. I shot a lot of images like this, but this one stands out to me. This is Isa from Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso is a sandy, landlocked nation in West Africa. Isa lives a complicated life, one that doesn’t neatly fit into a photo caption. But I spent time with him and his family. I walked away from this photo assignment with a greater understanding of extreme poverty. And when I look at this photo I’m confident that, to steal a quote, “In photography, there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated.”
At a Compassion church partner in Burkina Faso, a volunteer cook calls out to children when their midday snack is almost ready. She laughs at having her photo taken and tells me she’s not important. But she is. She’s cooking for hundreds of children, and this is the only meal many will get today. This photo is a reminder to me that the little things we do can have great impact. We may see our actions as small and unimportant, but we couldn’t be more wrong.
Betty watches over her son, Ronald, as he sleeps peacefully in Makindu, Uganda. Betty’s husband died in a head-on collision shortly after Ronald’s birth in 2014. Her husband was a taxi driver. Betty and Ronald were contracting malaria almost monthly, causing devastating effects to their physical health. With something as simple as a mosquito net, they started to protect themselves from malaria. As someone that actually contracted malaria in 2016, I can empathize with Betty and Ronald. I spent an afternoon with both of them, listening to their stories, shooting photos, and seeing firsthand the effects of malaria on children. This photo transports me back to Betty’s house. I can still smell the mango tree outside, see the light pouring in through holes in their tin roof, feel the sweat beading on my arms. This sweet moment, between mother and child, comes slowly when people are willing to show you how they live. Only then can you make images like this–authentic in all their vulnerability.
An iPhone picture makes the list this year. In late summer we adopted a dog from our local humane society. He was covered in mats, eyes cloudy and hazy, skinny, and smelled like he hadn’t been bathed, like ever. I took this photo in our backyard in the first few days after adopting Oscar Wilde. He’s sleeping on the couch now as I write this, head tucked into a purple and black blanket. My wife and I spent a lot of time and energy pouring love into this little dog. It’s hard to think back to what life was like before being dog owners. That may sound silly and overly sentimental, but it’s true. Maybe you other dog owners can relate.
With the Arc de Triomphe in the background, my wife climbed up a light pole and struck a pose. The last light of the day was bouncing off a window and reflecting back onto her face. It was the perfect spot, the perfect light, and a pretty wife helped immensely too. We spent a week in Europe this last July, catching trains and hopping from one city to the next. Even though this was shot on my iPhone, it’s definitely one of my favorite images from 2016.
Taken relatively recently, I shot this photo in Honduras a few weeks ago. Children were running around the front of a church, playing with an umbrella in the heat of the afternoon. I showed the children how to spin the umbrella behind them as they walked, strutting like Mary Poppins, creating a wonderful blur of colorful motion. They giggled, I set my shutter to 1/60, and I ended up with a series of beautiful photos.
And if you’re counting, this is technically eleven, but I couldn’t leave it out. In early October I spent about five days in Les Cayes, Haiti, documenting relief and recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew devastated the small island nation. Angeline Pierr told us about the night she survived, recounted the nightmare of fleeing a collapsing home in the dark morning of Hurricane Matthew. We sat in what was left of Angeline’s home, asking her questions about how she and her family survived, and how they were going to recover after everything they lost. We heard story after story that was just like Angeline’s; families that had lost everything, the little they had. It affected the crew and me greatly, and this photo had to be included. It brings me right back to sitting with Angeline, wooden boards under our feet, the smell of smoke drifting across west Haiti, ripped tarp shreds snapping in the wind. I take comfort that for a week or two, the world had its eyes on Haiti, raising money and providing relief. I just wish the world had paid attention a little longer.

One Comment

  1. Great photos Ryan! You do amazing work my friend!