If 2020 was an eternity, then 2021 was a blink of an eye, a mere threshold. Time did unexpected things this year, bending inwards and looping back out interminably, a fast-forward of sameness, a queue of repeating transitions. We are different than we were in 2020, but we don’t know how exactly. Perhaps in the future we will look back and pinpoint certain moments with confidence and say, “That. That was really something.” Or maybe 2021 will remain a blur, a doorway from one reality to another, until it finally appears clear in distant retrospect.
The job of the artist is unending. It’s a continuous hunt to identify and collect that which most humans don’t see or value in daily life, and to do so often without understanding fully why we are doing it. It is also the artist’s job to transform these moments into visions that connect, deepen, inspire, and assign meaning. Without artists (and this includes all genres and practices like writing, films, culinary, poetry, dance, music, etc. in addition to our visual arts), we don’t have history. Without artists, we don’t have meaning, which is essential for our survival.
We lost so much time this year in sameness, in waiting for change, in off-and-on-again isolation, and we lost so many courageous artistic leaders. At the cusp of a new year, it feels important to look back and take stock, to record the past year the only way we know how: through the vision and work of an artist, in this case Baltimore-based photographer Jill Fannon.
Starting in December 2020, when Fannon captured healthcare workers on the job, we see the year progress into intimate family moments, outings to the zoo, ordinary days, and outtakes from commissioned jobs. For Fannon, an artist, mother of two, and professional photographer for area publications and institutions, as well as the Ravens cheerleaders, photography is an escape, a balm, the best mode of processing the world around her, rife with contractions.
“When you’re photographing, that’s all you have to focus on, there’s nothing else,” she says. “I have read that we remake the same images over and over again, and I think that’s true. Some subjects are easier for me to project my feelings onto, especially the ephemeral things: my daughter on the trampoline, images of flight and falling, and specifically people and the natural environment. No matter what the subject is, I am always responding to the light.”
When we spoke by phone about the images selected by the photographer for this essay, she expressed concern that perhaps they were too sad. However, this dusky, sometimes dark, achingly sensitive approach is perfect for capturing the extreme emotions of 2021, with a consistent mood connecting a range of intensely personal and professional images. We lost so many creative voices this year, so many titans of culture, and in many ways Fannon’s photos express a collective sense of mourning and transition, but also hope. This is the job of the artist: to collect and curate, to rearrange and present so that the rest of us can understand.
No matter what happens, the polar bear keeps swimming. The children jump on the trampoline. The cicadas swarm with a dull passion that cannot be extinguished until it’s time. Fannon’s images remind us who we are at the end of 2021. We are complicated but resilient. We appreciate the sensation of sun on our skin. We are melancholy, but full of love for each other. We are motivated by inexplicable moments of inspiration and loss. We look forward to manifesting our vision for 2022.
The following is a selection of images by Jill Fannon, arranged in chronological order. Happy New Year.