IndyStar photojournalists have been documenting our community throughout the year while the world was still playing pandemic limbo. We’ve been in schools, hospitals, countless businesses, events and so much more.
We covered every game of the NCAA March Madness tournament — the only one ever held entirely in one state. Our photojournalists showed the world the joys of victory and the despair of defeat.
When there was a mass shooting at the FedEx Ground facility, our photojournalists made the world feel the pain our community felt.
When Hélio Castroneves won the Indianapolis 500, our photojournalists showed you what it feels like to be in the elite circle of four-time winners with images of him climbing the fence in celebration.
Between all those peak moments burned into our memory, we introduced you to your remarkable neighbors. Artists. Collectors. Athletes.
We love Indianapolis and strive to capture its challenges and triumphs. While we can’t predict the future, one thing we can guarantee is that our team will continue to celebrate our community through our lenses in 2022.
— Max Gersh
The closest thing to real magic I can think of is photography. There's no rabbit in a hat and definitely no card tricks. We have this incredible piece of equipment that can stop life. We are still living in a pandemic, and though it feels like life has stopped, it hasn't. The sun rises in the east, sets in the west and memories of what we endured over the past few years begin to fade. But in our images, those moments and events live. Even more so, they thrive.
Being a photojournalist is one of the greatest and hardest jobs in the world. One day, I am hugging a woman who lost everything to a tornado, and the next I'm running along the sidelines at an Indianapolis Colts game. This job is weird, but no matter what is thrown at us, we know the power of a good photograph. We can feel the magic it holds. When we don't have the words to describe what we felt, there's always an image that can speak for us.
It's a simple picture. "Don't give up the ship," a flag reads in the back of an empty Indianapolis courtroom. The saying, a motto used by the United States Navy, means to never surrender.
When I made this image in January 2021, I kept repeating the motto in my head over and over again. I'm reminded, almost daily, of the strength and resiliency of our community and how this motto applies to everyday life. From the drug dealer turned muralist to youth football team succeeding when everyone counted them out, surrendering was never an option.
So for whoever needs to hear it, don't give up the ship.
This year's gallery reflects anger, tragedy and a few bright moments in between. From the crushing grief caused by gun violence and COVID-19, to the innocence of childhood and the invasion of cicadas. It was a heck of a year.
My heart aches for so many of the people I have photographed this year, but those dark moments do make the happy moments seem brighter. Take care of each other out there, friends.
We sardonically joked how 2020 was the terrible new neighbor, but he moved in this year, kicked off his shoes and ate all the Takis.
Every one of our photojournalists’ years was different, and a lot of my 2021 involved photographing and interviewing the complex saga that is Indiana’s county-run jail system. Sure, there are some successes, like advocates itching for us to rethink how we think about and treat incarcerated people, but also a grim pattern where people die in our county jails at a rate of once every two weeks.
On a smaller scale, the year brought the death of beloved local cobbler Tony Cento, and a record-crushing city homicide rate.
But the joy didn’t get crowded out, thankfully. From buzzer-beating moments at the only-in-Indiana men’s NCAA hoops tournament to a local girl and her novel approach to her Eagle Scout project, there was elation.
And, I’m thrilled our newsroom has booted up the 317 Project, a look at the poignant stories that happen in our city’s micro-neighborhoods, the ones we media types sometimes overlook.
So, 2022, let’s go! I’m ready.
Throughout 2021, our photojournalists returned to some of the spaces that were restricted or closed during the pre-vaccination phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. From stepping back onto the astroturf at Lucas Oil Stadium, to hustling along pit lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was motivating to once again have the access needed to make intimate, intentional photos.
I'd never been so happy to find rubber infill pellets in my socks or bits of tire stuck to the sunscreen on my sweaty forehead. I remember standing on the field at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore thinking, "I'm glad I have a mask on because I must look like a goofball smiling this much." These joyful moments felt like sighs of relief amid difficult, uncertain times.
This year was the year we tried to return to the “old normal,” but the “new normal’ still seemed to hold on. This was a year of moments.
I have always experienced the world through the eyes of others, and this year was no different. I saw people continue to wear masks, but social distancing was not exactly in the plans. People needed to be close.
People lived as if they looked for more meaning. They yearned for love and positivity. Everyone needed to be heard, seen.
I always have a hard time picking photos for my end-of-year gallery. It’s not that I feel I’m a great photographer. It’s because I truly enjoy meeting so many people and learning from each person I meet, each experience I photograph. So many of my moments are not represented here. They are moments in people’s lives. But they are all moments in mine, too. Experiencing life through the eyes of others…. That is my “forever normal.”
“Peter Parker! Dad, it’s Peter Parker!” a young boy shouted as I climbed a hill for a better view of a scrapyard fire on Indianapolis’ south side.
I looked the part. Young. black-framed glasses. A slightly nerdy, awkward presence. He approached me with a tepid curiosity, softly whispering questions about my big camera and telling me about his birthday.
I wanted to tell him I wasn’t Spiderman. That I too loved Spiderman. That I had a Spiderman night-light growing up, and I only took down the framed photograph of Spiderman from my bedroom wall four years ago when I turned 16. But where is the magic in that? I told him I was a photojournalist with the IndyStar, and he flashed a smile as if to say, “Sure, that’s all you are ...” as his parents called him back to where they were standing among a growing crowd of onlookers gathered by the street.
The fire was my fourth assignment of the day. I started the day photographing Mayor Joe Hogsett under a street light at a press conference detailing the progress of Operation Night Light before heading to photograph California Burger, a new Indianapolis burger chain that was experiencing great demand. Next, I photographed a woman with her backyard chickens. As I drove home, I saw the huge plume of black smoke and knew my Starbucks trip would have to wait.
As I watched the firemen rush onto the scene and shoot water onto the flame and looked at the people lining the sidewalk looking at the black sky, I truly understood the power of community. And it’s greater than any spider-web or fancy blue-and-red spider suit on a Hollywood screen. It’s the chickens in the backyard. The kids watching in fascination as firemen extinguish a scrapyard flame. The brothers starting their own successful hamburger chain. The new streetlights in neighborhoods across the city.
Heroism is in our everyday lives, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to document it with my camera this summer.
When I reflect back on my time working in Indianapolis this year, only one emotion fills me: gratitude.
When I first arrived, I simply saw this city as a chance to grow my portfolio for a few months before I moved on to my next job. I thought my time here would go unnoticed by virtually everyone but my editor and the people I worked with. My perceptions could not have been further from the truth.
What I found, instead, was a city that embraced me just as much as I embraced it. When I went to a member of the community with a story idea, he invited me to weekly meetings with a group of others that could help me expand the scope of the project. A pair of grandparents wrote me a letter thanking me for a photo of their grandson from across the country. Haunted house performers invited me to their Friendsgiving after I spent several months working on a project about them.
Most recently, after I photographed a Special Olympics practice, one of the athletes showed up with a camera the next week. “I thought I would be like the newspaper photographer who was here last week,” he told one of our reporters.
A little over four months later, I wish I could stay in Indiana longer. I have grown both personally and professionally in ways I didn’t think were possible. Thank you, Indianapolis, for embracing me and allowing me to tell the stories that matter to you. I only hope I’ll find myself lucky enough to work here again one day.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IndyStar photojournalists share their best images 2021