Two (left and right) Sebastian Kim portraits of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the eventual TIME Magazine cover (center).

A Year In Portraits

Striking images of those who made the headlines in 2015

Editor’s note: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Pro Photo Daily. David Schonauer rounds up the winners of awards, selects the best magazine covers and the Pro Photo Daily portrait of the year. This follows hot on the heels of Vantage’s Martin Schoeller appreciation and the naming of Portrait Salon as the most community-minded portrait show in 2015.


“A portrait is not a likeness,” said Richard Avedon, famously.

Avedon, whose portraits probed and penetrated his subjects, was adamant that photographs of people reflect the person behind the camera as much as the person in front of it.

“The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth,” he said.


The New Yorker: Two Women

“Our favorite New Yorker portraits of 2015 capture not only the vision of our photographers and the spirit of their subjects but also the insights and interpretations of our writers,” noted the editors of the New Yorker in their look back at the magazine’s best photography from the past year.

Left: Megan Phelps-Roper © Katy Grannan. Right: Marlis Petersen © Jeff Brown.

That sentiment is born out in two photos of two very different women. First Katy Grannan’s spare portrait of Megan Phelps-Roper who gained online notoriety for her incendiary Twitter missives. In the story Unfollow, writer Adrien Chen describes how this “prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs.”

Jeff Brown’s photo of the German soprano Marlis Petersen, sets a very different tone.

“The singer’s ringletted head, caught in a slash of shadow, conveys what Alex Ross described in his review of her performance in William Kentridge’s Lulu, at the Met, as an air at once girlishly innocent and predatory.”


TIME: The Face and The Force

Time magazine’s portrait selects reflect the year’s news and newsmakers, from movie stars and politicians to Kurdish fighters, ballet dancers and Supreme Court Justices.

We have chosen three shots from the collection, all of them straight-on portraits that lock in the viewer’s gaze through the force of eye contact. And speaking of The Force: Marco Grob captured the well-worn face of Han Solo, aka Harrison Ford in a portfolio featuring stars of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Left: Harrison Ford (detail. © Marco Grob. Right: TIME cover with a Martin Schoeller portrait of Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, photographer Martin Schoeller employs his signature close-up style of portraiture to capture the orange-hued visage of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Sebastian Kim’s portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (top) from TIME’s “The 100 Most Influential People.” RBG’s certainly got some force too.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. © Sebastian Kim

Vanity Fair: Call Her Caitlyn

If one photographic portrait stood out this year, it was Annie Leibovitz’s cover shot of Caitlyn Jenner for the July issue of Vanity Fair.

A portrait of Caitlyn Jenner by Annie Leibovitz on the cover of Vanity Fair, July 2015

As we noted earlier this year, the portrait was a perfect example of how magazine covers can still dictate the cultural conversation in the Internet age.

“Caitlyn had hardly been out in the weeks leading up to our session,” said Leibovitz in Time, which also chose the VF cover as one of the best of the year. “It wasn’t quite clear what to expect, but the setting helped create the story. The shoot was a cross between journalism and performance art. While there was a portable studio set up in the garage for cover tries, the rest of the house was the landscape for the photographs.”


LensCulture: Picturing a Vanishing Shore

In 2015, LensCulture held a portraiture contest for its readers around the world, a reflection of the growing popularity of this photographic genre. Photographers from 130 countries shared their images.

The first-place winner in the series category shows how portraiture can also explore big issues like climate change — it is, in every sense of the word, an environmental portrait: Daesung Lee photographed the people of Ghoramara, an island near West Bengal, who are facing the prospect of losing their home as ocean levels rise.


World Press Photo: The Cadet

Italian photographer Paolo Verzone’s portrait of cadets at the Koninklijke Militaire Academie (Royal Military Academy), in Breda, the Netherlands, was among the winners of the 2015 World Press Photo competition.

“Young officers-to-be are schooled not only in matters of combat, but are instilled with a sense of their heritage,” says Verzone of the academy. His portrait here captures both ideals in a single face.


The 2015 Taylor Wessing Prize: ‘Five Girls’

“I think the humor in my pictures is very British,” said London-based photographer David Stewart in an AI-AP Profile earlier this year. “It comes from the culture in the UK, which can be seen as eccentric and quirky. I find the humor is greater when you feel something for the characters in the photos; if you don’t like them, people turn off.”

‘Five Girls’ © David Stewart.

Stewart certainly felt something for the subjects of Five Girls, a portrait of his own daughter and her friends that won this year’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. The photo can be seen as a follow-up to those in Stewart’s 2013 book Teenage Pre-occupation, which featured documentary-like shots of his sons and daughter recreating real-life moments, each illustrating the self-involved world of the young.


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