We couldn’t wait to get to this year, because it meant turning the page on last year. There was the promise of a vaccine, but the new year began with an appropriately strange moment at the Crossroads of the World in Times Square.
It was a year of “after,” of moving on and getting by, and the USA TODAY Network’s New York photojournalists were there for it all. For celebrations with and without revelers, for tragedies real and averted, for competitors at the finish, for families in flux but striving, to capture love and frustration and welcome and simple moments of togetherness. We asked them to choose an image that left its mark on them. They had plenty from which to choose.
Confetti clouds, no crowds
The image that left a lasting impression on me was the very first photo I shot in 2021, one I took seconds after the new year began. In many ways, it was a continuation of the coverage of the pandemic that dominated my work in 2020. And it was equally unsettling. The annual New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square was like no other. Except for police and a few media members, when the clock struck midnight and the ball finished its descent, confetti rained down on empty streets. Confetti and the bright lights of Times Square filled the frame of my camera, producing a colorful and even a celebratory feel, but without the thousands who typically ring in the New Year. The calendar might have turned to 2021, but in a real way it was a continuation of the tragic and sad year we had just left behind.
About Seth: A voracious consumer of the news and passionate about covering the news, Seth is also an admittedly obsessed, oft-injured marathon runner who is recovering from knee surgery that he hopes will get him back out on the roads soon. When not working (or running), Seth can often be found in New York City, where he is constantly amazed that after living in the metropolitan area for most of his life, he continues to discover treasures of the city that he never knew existed. Instagram: @sethharrison
Oaths, then vows
The image that left a lasting impression on me was of two newly commissioned first lieutenants at the end of the United States Military Academy graduation at West Point in May. The two locked in an embrace that showed there was more than friendship and camaraderie, the release of hard work over four years. I didn’t think much of it at the time; it showed a lot of emotion, so I added it to the photo gallery. Days later, the mother of one of the soldiers emailed to thank me. It turns out the two — Joey Heindrichs and Jacqueline Fitzgerald — had gotten engaged and were planning to marry over the summer. When you make a photograph, you capture a moment in time, and you never know whose moment that is. This one turned out to be a nice one.
About John: John lives in Tuxedo, New York, and when not working, he’s either fixing something, spending time with his three daughters, or on a golf course. Instagram: @jmeorephoto
The photo that left a lasting impression on me was from the funeral procession for Spring Valley Fire Department Lt. Jared Lloyd who died tragically in the March 23, 2021, fire that destroyed the Evergreen Court senior living complex. After his memorial service at the Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, where thousands watched, the funeral procession drove past his firehouse, Columbian Fire Engine Co. No. 1, with Lloyd's flag-draped casket carried on top of the fire engine. It was a quiet and solemn moment.
About Mark: A lifelong Yonkers resident, Mark has been a staff photographer with The Journal News and its predecessors since graduating from Syracuse University in 1983. He has photographed everything in and around his Lower Hudson community from high school sports and parades to food and protests, and has covered three popes (twice at the Vatican), the 2000 Olympics in Sydney Australia, and national sporting events. Before the pandemic, when we all worked together in an “office” setting, Mark enjoyed baking cheesecakes and sharing them with his colleagues. Instagram: @markvergari
A Connecticut shooter
Frank Becerra Jr.
On the 15-minute drive to Connecticut on Aug. 11, 2021, after reports of an active shooter at the Danbury Mall, all I could think about was the last time I raced to Connecticut for an active shooter. That was 2012, when a lone gunman killed 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. When I got to Danbury, I made my way to one of the main entrances in time to photograph SWAT team members making their way in as frightened shoppers came out, their hands up. A teenage girl had been caught in crossfire between local gangs, who had left the mall before police arrived. Not knowing that, SWAT members took the time to clear each store. The injured girl's injuries were not life-threatening injuries, and the gang member who fired the shots was soon arrested.
About Frank: Passionate about shooting news and sports, which he has been doing for decades, in his spare time, Frank is a volunteer firefighter in his hometown, where he gets the opportunity to help people at their worst times. He loves photographing nature, and does so whenever he gets the chance. Instagram: @frankbjrphoto
Over the bar
The focus, the light, the frame. Photographing the Mountie Madness Track and Field meet at Suffern High School in May, all three elements combined to deliver a lasting image for me from 2021.
Every time Clarkstown South High School pole vaulter Madison Chalfin ran and planted and vaulted high, she'd cross the bar the same way, with the same focus and the exact same form, arms uncrossing, her right index finger pointing up.
Vault after vault, frame after frame, as the setting sun bathed her in a golden glow and caught the light in her eye, Chalfin vaulted her way to victory.
About Peter: In his spare time, Peter plays banjo and other bluegrass instruments. He is happy to be back to playing gigs, mostly in Orange and Rockland counties, with Moonshine Creek Bluegrass Band. Instagram: @pcarrphoto
A family life changed
I first met the Chiaramonte family in Peekskill in late 2020 when the mother, Leslie, quit her job as a nurse so she could stay home and be with her daughters, Brooklyn, 6, and Phoenix, 3, during hybrid learning. Throughout the pandemic, Leslie helped her husband in the family's business, Nardone Funeral Home, and the girls did their part, too, helping to straighten up the funeral parlor. I revisited them while Leslie was pursuing her funeral-director license. The pandemic affected many families, some in more devastating ways than others. For the Chiaramonte family, it changed the course of their lives as they were confronted with making career choices to ultimately care for their family.
About Tania: This year gave Tania a new subject to photograph, besides her cat, Rosie: She and her husband, Jon, welcomed their son, Franklin, who is already getting used to outings to riverfront parks. Instagram: @taniasavayan
Through thick and thin
It's rare when I get to develop a relationship with my subjects. Often I meet people once for an assignment, then do not see them again, except in passing. Our year-long "Learning Curve" project introduced me to Poughkeepsie mother Kendra Smith and her daughter, Diamond Yeno. Reporter Katelyn Cordero and I checked in with them monthly, to see how they were handling the pandemic, lockdowns, remote school. I grew to know Kendra as a single mom striving for a better life for her and her daughter. Over the year, each visit saw Diamond developing a sense of self, goals, a social life. It showed me another side of Poughkeepsie, far from press conferences and galas and high school sports. I am grateful for the glimpse they gave me, of a powerful, loving bond in incredibly trying times.
About Patrick: Born in Buffalo, raised on Long Island, when he's not working, he likes being outside with his patient, charming and beautiful wife, Naina, and their Saint-Usuge Spaniel, Chutney. He likes camping, cycling, canoeing and hunting. Instagram: @patoehler
Kate Catalano Collins
The first year of the pandemic was so isolating, it often felt we’d never gather together again. But as vaccines became available, community events were optimistically scheduled. In June, the annual “Pride in the Park” festival celebrating LGBTQ+ pride was the first large public event held in Broome County in well over a year. I decided in advance to make portraits at “Pride in the Park.” A young couple approached and asked me to take their photo. Ashley and Marlowe were so happy to be with each other, celebrating Pride month surrounded by a supportive community. When Ashley kissed Marlowe, their energy radiated love, resiliency and hope for all that is yet to come. Pride in the Park reminded me that humans are not meant to be isolated. We need love, laughter and shared connections to thrive.
About Kate: A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Kate is a photojournalist, reporter and artist who lives in Ithaca where she enjoys hiking, growing things and having fun. She dislikes bullies. Instagram: @kcollins213
Father, daughter, foliage
This photo just makes me smile. It's a wholesome, father-daughter moment taking a ski lift up McCauley Mountain in Old Forge to view the fall foliage. Fall is my favorite time of year and being able to take an entire day to relax and capture great images in the Adirondacks was a lot of fun. The leaves were bursting with color and the temperature was perfect. After a year of quarantine and going outside being taken for granted, this photo really shows a family enjoying the little things. The overall color and framing of the shot speaks for itself.
About Alex: In his spare time, Alex follows baseball and the New York Mets. He also enjoys critiquing movies and their cinematography and hanging out with his cat, Arya, named for Arya Stark from "Game of Thrones." Twitter: @OD_ACooper
The warmest welcome
I really thought a football action shots or a moment from living through the pandemic would be my favorite photo, but I kept getting drawn back to Rochester teacher Melissa Sample welcoming a student at a meet-and-greet before classes started at RISE Community School No. 6 in September. Kindness and warmth emanates from her, even though she wears tinted glasses and a mask covers half her face. Her body language, her bending toward the student, just felt like she was someone you felt safe with. Kindness is everything, especially now, when we are so disconnected physically by COVID and social media.
About Tina: Tina lives in Brighton with her spouse, Kathryn, and their daughter, Ada. When she’s not working you still might find her with a camera because, well, it’s a hobby, too. She is a Girl Scout leader and reads a LOT of books, mostly mysteries. She and her daughter are currently working on the Adirondacks Fire Tower Challenge. Instagram: @tinayee23
Zooming in on frustration
For me, the photo of fifth-grader Jacob Sepulveda and his frustration with remote schoolwork is a lasting image from 2021. It was part of a year-long project following the Sepulveda family, capturing how the five children and parents coped with COVID and having the kids attend school remotely. Whenever I would visit, the family just went about their lives, letting me in, as I hoped to capture small moments that showed the stresses of life during lockdown. I think all of us can relate to Jacob’s frustrations.
About Shawn: Having grown up on a dairy farm in Argyle, Washington County, Shawn now lives in Rochester, and spends as much time as possible traveling, always with a camera in hand, and has never met a road trip he didn’t like. “Eight-hour drive one way for a baseball game? Count me in.” “Fly to Texas and spend three days doing nothing but driving and eating BBQ? Absolutely!” Instagram: @sdowdphoto
I've always liked to photograph sports, so, when I was assigned to shoot the Class AA Section V softball final between Fairport and Webster Schroeder, I was as excited as one could get for someone who has done about 100 championship games in a long career. That I still feel a little pressure for these games is a good thing; it keeps a person sharp and focused (photography pun). Like many schools with upgraded facilities, the site of the game has a fenced-in, turf softball field, with fences too high to shoot over. There were risers behind the outfield fence for photographers. In the bottom of the seventh, with one out and a runner on second base, the Fairport batter hit a hard liner off Schroeder pitcher Krislyn Clement’s leg. Clement dove to field the ball and flipped it in one motion to first base for the out. The runner on second tried to score and was thrown out at the plate to end the game, 8-6. I was able to get nice photos of Clement flipping the ball to first and the final out at home, but the image that stuck out to me was the pure joy on the Coach Meaghan Keil's face as she rushed out to meet her fallen pitcher at the middle of the infield after a crazy bang, bang play that won the title.
About Jamie: Growing up in the city of Rochester and later in Irondequoit, Jamie joined the Democrat and Chronicle in 1987. He lives in Webster with Mary Ellen, his wife of 34 years. They have two grown daughters, Katie and Emma. Adds Jamie: “I have come to appreciate decent bourbon. In last year’s bio, I promised my wife, Mary Ellen, that I would keep my bourbon obsession to the 52 bottles she counted in my cabinet. However, I may have unwittingly broken that promise this year by a mere 20 more bottles. I may have to relent to the one bottle out, one bottle in rule. She still doesn’t buy the argument that 72 bottles is really nothing compared to real bourbon aficionados.” Instagram: @jgerm01