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