How We Saw the Arts This Year

Sinna Nasseri photographed Weird Al, left, and Daniel Radcliffe at a playground in Lower Manhattan in August before the release of their biopic, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.”Credit…Sinna Nasseri for The New York Times

Culture comes to life through a progression of ideas and images: Artists create works, and our photographers then capture these creators and their offerings — in turn creating photography that shares with us moments of intimacy we wouldn’t otherwise witness. Over the past year, photo editors at The New York Times have commissioned thousands of photographs of the movie stars, choreographers, opera singers, musicians and artists who made memorable contributions to the cultural world.

In one frame by Chantal Anderson, the actor Caleb Landry Jones sips from a coffee mug at his kitchen counter, last night’s dishes piled high in the sink, as sunlight pours in from the window above. In another, Rosie Marks gives us an inside look at Charo being Charo: working out at home, full hair and makeup, in a gym frozen in time. In Michael Tyrone Delaney’s photograph of Awol Erizku, the artist stands before his work, his gaze set on his toddler. It’s an image that speaks to both his personal relationship with his child and his art’s relationship to her.

Together, these photographs capture a narrative about a year in the arts, building a collection of evolving scenes and inner worlds. We asked some of the photographers to discuss the intentions behind these frames and the stories they saw within them. Now that the year is coming to a close, take one more look back at how we saw culture this year. — JOLIE RUBEN, senior photo editor

December 2021

When it comes to comedies, “I don’t get cast in them,” Nicole Kidman told The New York Times late last year about her role as Lucille Ball in the film “Being the Ricardos.” That might be the result of a career spent in dramas or “it might be my personality, too.”Credit…Jody Rogac for The New York Times


“Authentic Selves: The Beauty Within,” the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo’s New York Philharmonic festival, was a self-portrait of the musician, who is also an impresario and a community organizer. “I’m not interested in any artist because of their fame,” he told The Times.Credit…Erik Tanner for The New York Times

I like to think about this portrait of Anthony Roth Costanzo in the spirit of early stage plays, a sort of dollar-store version of world building, where rudimentary means of expression invite the smoke and mirrors to be an active part of the world rather than obscure it. I created a stage set as a field of flowers in a perpetual state of bending in the wind. The twine that suspends the flowers was both practical but also meant to dispel any illusion of the wind being real; showing my cards, as it were.— Erik Tanner

“When I look back, I don’t remember it as suffering,” Penélope Cruz said of playing Janis in “Parallel Mothers,” because “for me, she was alive.” The film was her seventh collaboration with the director Pedro Almodóvar.Credit…Camila Falquez for The New York Times
The Broadway veteran Kenneth Ard and the jazz vocalist Kat Edmonson were cast in “The Hang,” a jazz opera from the performer Taylor Mac.Credit…Justin J Wee for The New York Times

The way that Kat Edmonson draped her arm over Kenneth Ard’s, the way that his body lay back on this stool, the texture of the stool, the color of their costumes, the lighting overhead and the fog from the smoke machine. As a queer person, it felt like a metaphor for how it feels to walk out of the closet: It’s like an exhale, an aha moment where everything has meaning, feels connective and lush, but only if you allow yourself to experience it in that way. — Justin J Wee


To play a superstar at a vulnerable moment in the rom-com “Marry Me,” Jennifer Lopez said, “I had to remind myself in this movie that this was actually a safe place to let those feelings out.”Credit…Chantal Anderson for The New York Times
“It’s so in my bones,” Beanie Feldstein said of playing Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” on Broadway. “I used to run around the house in my pajamas screaming ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade,’ pretending my dog was the tugboat.”Credit…OK McCausland for The New York Times

I brought the flowers as a prop for Beanie. Yellow roses, as featured in “Funny Girl” the movie, starring Barbra Streisand. I wanted to evoke the idea of a torch being passed. — OK McCausland

The dancer and choreographer Angela Trimbur (squatting) champions low-stakes, accessible and intuitive movement. Dancing, she said, “is the way that I talk to myself.”Credit…Cait Oppermann for The New York Times
“I wanted this work to focus on joy and celebration and love,” said the choreographer Kyle Abraham of his evening-length work “An Untitled Love,” set to songs by D’Angelo.Credit…Lelanie Foster for The New York Times

As a former dancer and D’Angelo fan, I was inspired by these two worlds of dance and R&B. I only asked Kyle if he could improvise a little bit for me. Soon enough I was in the midst of an intimate solo performance in the BAM lobby. — Lelanie Foster

Sam Waterston, best known for “Law & Order,” began his career on the stage but soon branched into TV and film, taking on drama and comedy. “I’ve always wanted to prove that I can do all kinds of things,” he said.Credit…Mark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
Jerry Saltz, New York magazine’s senior art critic, and a figurine of himself. He was photographed for an essay by the New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott about the physical objects of our pop culture obsessions.Credit…Daniel Arnold for The New York Times


The Spanish pop singer Rosalía smashed together new sounds from the Latin world and beyond on her latest album, “Motomami.” “I just want to hear something I haven’t heard before,” she said.Credit…Carlos Jaramillo for The New York Times
The guitarist, singer, actress and comedian Charo has felt underestimated “all the time, all the time,” she said. “But it never gave me a complex. I have fun. As long as people enjoy it, I don’t care. Because once I have that, I have the power of the stage.”Credit…Rosie Marks for The New York Times

I wanted to capture the slight chaos of Charo at home on her compound. There is a lot going on in the frame: the artificial grass carpet, the rusty weights, the old TV, a missing piece of the mirror — and then her in the middle, wearing a bright yellow outfit right out of an ’80s workout video, with hair and makeup that could be taken right out of one of her sold-out Vegas shows. She insisted we stay after the shoot and served up several cheese and meat platters. — Rosie Marks

Sand in Death Valley, Calif., was manipulated in different ways for the soundscape of “Dune,” Denis Villeneuve’s film based on Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel.Credit…Peter Fisher for The New York Times

I watched “Dune” three times before heading to this shoot, taking notes on my yellow legal pad each time. The sound engineers did such an incredible job immersing the audience in this alien world, I wanted the images to at least attempt to do the same thing, like we were reporting from the surface of Arrakis. — Peter Fisher

The vocalist, flutist and producer Melanie Charles singing at a rehearsal in her Brooklyn home. Her music uses electronics and calls for something heavier than an upright bass. “Musicians like me and my peers, we need some bump on the bottom,” she said.Credit…Sinna Nasseri for The New York Times

Instead of trying to separate different elements in the frame, sometimes I want my photograph’s different parts to connect and flow together to create shapes and lines. The neck of the bass guitar meets the circle of the bass drum, and Melanie Charles’s foot connects with the bass, which forms a diagonal line with Jonathan Michel’s finger. Melanie’s living room was inundated with music, with instruments. You get the sense that there’s not much separating her life from her music. — Sinna Nasseri

With an exhibition at the Gagosian this year, Awol Erizku, above in his studio, was able to reach a broad audience. “I want to be remembered for Black imagination,” Erizku said, “to expand the limits of Black art.”Credit…Michael Tyrone Delaney for The New York Times

Walking into Awol Erizku’s studio is like walking into his mind. It’s a large warehouse, filled with striking imagery and sculptures in progress. He asked to get one photo with his daughter, Iris. A lot of his work is made with his daughter in mind. For me, this image embodies the themes of legacy building and cultivation of Black imagination. — Michael Tyrone Delaney

The reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian and the prolific drummer Travis Barker, who got married this year, kiss on the Oscars red carpet in March.Credit…Krista Schlueter for The New York Times


The actor and musician Caleb Landry Jones at his Los Angeles home. His role in the Australian drama “Nitram” earned him a top prize at Cannes.Credit…Chantal Anderson for The New York Times
Before the Broadway debut of “Mr. Saturday Night” — a musical version of his 1992 movie about an aging performer who won’t accept that his time in the spotlight is up — Billy Crystal said, “The worst nightmare is, do you wake up one day and you’re not funny anymore?”Credit…Philip Montgomery for The New York Times
Sarah Silverman during a break from rehearsals of “The Bedwetter,” about a 10-year-old Silverman who suffered from the embarrassing condition of the title. “It will be familiar to so many people,” Silverman said about how the musical explores the emotions raised by divorce.Credit…Mark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
Nicolas Cage, who starred as “Nick Cage” in this year’s “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” said, “I don’t want to be one of those actors — and there are a lot of them, I won’t mention any names — who are high on their own supply.”Credit…Sinna Nasseri for The New York Times

I had about 10 minutes with Nicolas Cage in a Manhattan hotel. The story was about his newest movie, which has a meta quality to it: Nic plays himself at different stages of his life. I thought a mirror would represent that well. The side of his face is the foreground, and there’s also the lesser foreground of his hand. The middle ground shows his circular reflection while the background is another reflection of Nic. And there’s a further background beyond that. The depth of this frame is a big part of its power. — Sinna Nasseri

Alexander Skarsgard said working on the Viking saga “The Northman” was “the greatest experience of my career but, God, it was intense.”Credit…Robbie Lawrence for The New York Times


“I don’t want to be a celebrity,” Ethel Cain said ahead of the May release of her debut album, “Preacher’s Daughter.”Credit…Irina Rozovsky for The New York Times

When I met her, Ethel Cain was living in a small house in a small town somewhere in Alabama. It was a total time warp with no obvious signs of modernity — video tapes, crocheted table settings, wood paneled walls, quilts. In this photo, we were in Ethel’s bedroom, where she sleeps and records, the microphone just a few feet from the bed. We were talking about her childhood in the church. She was lying down, and I was on my knees beside her with the camera, a pious sight in and of itself. — Irina Rozovsky

“I’ve made it clear to people that I’m never going to make a record that’s the same as another,” Bad Bunny said. His fourth album, “Un Verano Sin Ti,” was a smash hit.Credit…Josefina Santos for The New York Times
Michael Che, known mostly for “Saturday Night Live,” said there had been a certain amount of trial and error in developing his own show, the HBO Max series “That Damn Michael Che,” and in figuring out his career: “Everything looks easy till you start doing it.”Credit…Andre D. Wagner for The New York Times

One of my favorite ways to make photographs is to be out on the streets and in the world; I love playing off juxtaposition and chance encounters. Even the streets know that Michael Che is PURE GENIE-US! — Andre D. Wagner

Fans respond to Austin Butler, above, the way they did to a young Leonardo DiCaprio, said the “Elvis” director Baz Luhrmann.Credit…Chantal Anderson for The New York Times
Anson Boon said he “loved the intensity” of playing Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols frontman, in “Pistol,” a Hulu limited series.Credit…Mark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
“I have spent a lot of time with different choreographers, all with different processes, so I also told myself: There are no rules,” said Janie Taylor, a former City Ballet principal, whose dances were featured in the L.A. Dance Project’s Joyce Theater season.Credit…Thea Traff for The New York Times

Each morning in Los Angeles, there’s typically a layer of fog (the “marine layer”) that clouds sunlight. We were incredibly lucky the morning of this shoot — there was no fog, only direct, beautiful California sunlight. The light was also low enough in the sky to create a beautiful shadow across half of Janie Taylor’s body. I asked her to dance in a way that felt reflective of her work, and she gave so much expression and movement in this light. — Thea Traff

“My job was to capture their genius and not take shots that were superfluous,” said Marty Callner, who directed the first specials of Robin Williams, Steve Martin and George Carlin.Credit…Peter Fisher for The New York Times
Lars “Bala” Lyons stands by while a red-tailed hawk (magnified by binoculars) perches above near Tompkins Square Park in New York. “For the Birds,” a star-studded, 242-track collection of songs and readings inspired by or incorporating birdsong, was released this year.Credit…Sinna Nasseri for The New York Times

For this story I embedded myself with New York City’s birders — people who are obsessive about tracking birds, while the rest of us just go about our lives. I wanted to show that difference in one photo, so I split the frame by holding binoculars to the top half of my lens, which I focused on a red-tailed hawk, while the bottom half reveals a man on the ground just walking, unaware of the magnificent creature above him and the fandom surrounding the city’s birds. — Sinna Nasseri

When Oscar Isaac was offered “Moon Knight,” a Marvel series on Disney+, he wasn’t sure he was ready for another action blockbuster. “As fun as they can be, you’re outputting a lot of energy, and then you leave and you’re just exhausted,” he said.Credit…Erik Tanner for The New York Times


If the filmmaker Taika Waititi stepped back and considered all of his projects, “I’d probably have a panic attack,” he said. “I know there’s too many things.”Credit…Dana Scruggs for The New York Times
From left, Terry Elliott Lamont, Michael Turner Jr. and Von Williams in the McCulloh Homes public housing project, which was used as “The Pit” in “The Wire.” This year, a Baltimore photographer considered the HBO drama’s impact on the city where he was raised, 20 years after the show’s debut.Credit…Gioncarlo Valentine for The New York Times

When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, I was lucky enough to have a group of queer friends. We called ourselves “The Pridelights.” The three people in this image, Terry, Michael, and Von, were among the core members of the group and, in many ways, the core of my childhood. The composition is a nod to the iconic “Destiny Fulfilled” album cover, an album that was so central to us when it was released. We fought constantly about who in our group was Beyoncé (Von and me), Kelly (Michael) and Michelle (Terry). There are almost no images of us together when we were children. Looking at this image now, it feels corrective. — Gioncarlo Valentine


“I wanted to build a framework for myself, for how to keep art sacred,” the singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers said of her detour to Harvard Divinity School during the pandemic. Her second major-label album, “Surrender,” was released this summer.Credit…OK McCausland for The New York Times


Decades in the making, Michael Heizer’s “City,” a massive mile-and-a-half-long sculpture set in a remote Nevada valley, was finally revealed this year.Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

It is nearly impossible to distill the experience of Heizer’s magnum opus “City” in one frame. From dusk to dawn, I had the rare opportunity to wander the immense space, allowing the light to be my guide. Standing in the bitter cold, I made a handful of exposures around 10 seconds long. Seeing “City” under moonlight made me think of how humans have been building mysterious structures on this planet for thousands of years, many in relation to the heavens above. — Todd Heisler

The photographer Sinna Nasseri captured images of present-day New York City as it might have been predicted by science fiction films of the 1980s. Here, a delivery robot serves food at Lilya’s Restaurant & Grill in Staten Island, N.Y.Credit…Sinna Nasseri for The New York Times
Abbi Jacobson’s series version of “A League of Their Own,” on Amazon Prime Video, expanded upon the 1992 film. “The movie is a story about white women getting to play baseball,” she said. “That’s just not enough.”Credit…Chantal Anderson for The New York Times

What I love about Abbi Jacobson is how relatable the characters she plays are — you really feel like you know her and are friends with her from watching her. When I found out we were going to be taking photos in L.A., I thought of Art’s Delicatessen & Restaurant as the perfect place to meet up. It’s a family-owned spot you go back to over and over again with friends. There’s an intimacy and history there that I wanted in the images. — Chantal Anderson

Ahead of her album “Hold the Girl,” Rina Sawayama said, “I think the temptation, as an artist these days, is to look online and see what the fans want. But I’m going to write something that’s meaningful and worth people’s time.”Credit…Olivia Lifungula for The New York Times
Finishing touches underway on Wolfgang Tillmans’s retrospective, “To Look Without Fear,” at the Museum of Modern Art, which ends on New Year’s Day.Credit…Daniel Arnold for The New York Times

Wolfgang Tillmans and I shot this couple melting into one viewer before a photo in his MoMA survey at the same time, he on his iPhone and me with my camera. I’m guessing his pic is better. — Daniel Arnold


The choreographer Gisèle Vienne at her parents’ home in Grenoble, France. She returned to New York in October with the U.S. premiere of “Crowd,” a magnetic work that places 15 dancers, consumed with love and longing, at an all-night party.Credit…Sam Hellmann for The New York Times

Gisèle Vienne had given me a tour of the house, and this room was straight away my favorite. The light through the dirty windows, her mother’s sculptures, the dried plants, the floor. This was taken toward the end of the shoot so she had been dancing for a while, and it was terribly hot outside. I couldn’t tell she was sweating so much, though the flash revealed it. That’s when it began to be truly interesting. She was letting go, and I was finally becoming invisible. — Sam Hellmann

Moneybagg Yo has grown into the biggest rap star to emerge from Memphis in a generation.Credit…Chantal Anderson for The New York Times
Most punk shows don’t have an audience that can comfortably fit under the lip of the stage. Or fans that headbang atop the shoulders of their heavily tattooed papas. But that was the scene at a Linda Lindas show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York this summer.Credit…OK McCausland for The New York Times
The sculptor Fred Eversley, an unheralded pioneer of the Light and Space movement, with one of his parabolic lenses that is installed on the ground floor of his five-story building in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. “I don’t like art that you have to know art history to appreciate,” he said.Credit…Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. for The New York Times
Daniel Clark Smith, a chorister, reviewed sheet music at a dress rehearsal of “Medea” at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan. It was the Met’s first production of the Cherubini work.Credit…Sinna Nasseri for The New York Times
Yvonne Rainer, a giant of choreography with more than a half-century of work behind her, went out swinging with “Hellzapoppin’: What About the Bees?,” which took on themes of race and resistance.Credit…Erik Tanner for The New York Times
From left, the artists Coreen Simpson, Randy Williams and Lorraine O’Grady in the Founders Room of the Museum of Modern Art. Just Above Midtown, an incubator of some of the most important Black avant-garde art of the 1970s and ’80s, was the subject of an exhibition.Credit…Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. for The New York Times

Toward the end of my time with the group, I came back into the darkened conference room to see them arranged in a loose circle as they shared stories. I’d technically finished photographing them, but they were so immersed in conversation and used to my presence. This particular photograph, of Lorraine O’Grady holding court, ended up being my favorite. — Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

Tyler Mitchell in his Brooklyn studio alongside test prints of images from his London exhibition. The photographer is part of a generation that’s “blending fashion into art and art into fashion,” an Aperture magazine editor said.Credit…Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. for The New York Times
Abel Selaocoe, a classically trained South African artist, is best known for his work on the cello, but is also a singer and improviser. He drew on musical traditions from across the globe for his debut album, “Where is Home (Hae Ke Kae).”Credit…Adama Jalloh for The New York Times


Whether it’s Jamie Lee Curtis’s return to her horror roots in “Halloween Ends” or her buzzy performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” freedom is what the actress is after. “I feel all the feels, all the time,” she said.Credit…Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times
Taking a raw Southern sound to the top of the pop charts, Lil Baby could have come only from one place: Atlanta, where the rap scene is one of the world’s most consequential musical ecosystems.Credit…Kevin Amato for The New York Times
This year, Michael Imperioli, best known for playing crooks and cops, appeared in the comedies “This Fool” and “The White Lotus.” “I don’t really know how to be funny,” he insisted.Credit…Daniel Arnold for The New York Times
Best known for playing nice guys, Jake Lacy won acclaim as a privileged jerk in HBO’s “The White Lotus.” In the Peacock drama “A Friend of the Family,” he went even darker.Credit…Nathan Bajar for The New York Times
The prolific choreographer Twyla Tharp told new stories with two classic works at New York City Center this fall: “In the Upper Room” and “Nine Sinatra Songs.” “I was looking for some kind of spirituality or personal redemption,” said Kaitlyn Gilliland, dancing here with Lloyd Knight.Credit…Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times


Jeremy Pope, a Tony-nominated actor, segued to the big screen in the gay military drama “The Inspection.” “I feel so blessed that I’m able to do this fully in my Blackness and in my queerness,” he said.Credit…Erik Carter for The New York Times
In the Hulu series “Fleishman Is in Trouble,” Claire Danes and Jesse Eisenberg play two halves of a splintered couple. “Playing a married person with kids, I was at greater risk of taking it home than I have been with other projects,” Danes said.Credit…Thea Traff for The New York Times

It’s tough to pose two people in a dynamic way when they’re inclined to just stand or sit side by side facing the camera. Claire Danes and Jesse Eisenberg play a recently divorced couple in the show, so I came to set with the idea to pose them as if they were embracing or slow-dancing, in a pose that felt reflective of their characters. — Thea Traff

In the drama “Causeway,” Jennifer Lawrence played a military engineer who returns home from Afghanistan after a brain injury. It’s the kind of indie she hasn’t really starred in since her breakthrough in 2010. “I don’t know how I can act,” she said, “when I feel cut off from normal human interaction.”Credit…Robbie Lawrence for The New York Times
The choreographer Neil Greenberg at a rehearsal of his dance “Betsy.” His beaded headpiece was inspired by a cast member’s flowing hair. “They’re a little like Las Vegas’s idea of a sheikh,” Greenberg said.Credit…Mark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
“I think it’s one of the best costumes. It’s so furry and smooth and nice. But it’s also really hot,” said Eleanor Murphy, left. “I like throwing the cheese,” said Taiga Emmer. The two alternate as the Bunny in the New York City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”Credit…Erik Tanner for The New York Times
The eminent composer Steve Reich, who is in his 80s, released two important albums and a conversations book this year. His next premiere, “Jacob’s Ladder,” is expected in fall 2023.Credit…Philip Montgomery for The New York Times
Laura Poitras’s documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” tells a complex story of the photographer Nan Goldin’s personal trauma and protest. “It’s my voice telling my story with my pictures, so it has to be true to me,” said Goldin, above.Credit…Thea Traff for The New York Times
The choreographer Katja Heitmann collects the quotidian habits and mannerisms of volunteers — how they walk, stand, kiss, sleep and fidget — for her ongoing dance project “Motus Mori” (meaning “movement that is dying out”).Credit…Melissa Schriek for The New York Times

Additional production by Alicia DeSantis Tala Safie Maya Salam and Josephine Sedgwick.

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