Whether it’s a time of happiness or sadness, celebration or condolence, pictures capture the essence of a moment in time and preserve it, so we can look back and recall — if only for a second — how that moment made us feel.
For this reason, photographs tend to elicit strong reactions. And for the picture-holder, these mementos are also deeply personal, representing a life left behind, a new beginning, or a rest stop in our fast-paced lives.
Here, LightBox curates a crop of images that give us a glimpse into others’ memories. These are photos of photos — a nostalgic, if not somewhat contemplative look into a world within a world, where blissful instants are lost among a sea of uncertainty, and moments from the past are frozen in the present, stark in the contrast between then and now.
Some of the most emblematic photos of photos from the past year came from Japan, as family portraits smiled up from among the post-tsunami dust and debris. The photographs pictured are reminiscent of lives that were lost — either by death or through the sheer magnitude of this disaster — with only the vast unknown remaining.
In Libya, photos of burning, destructed images of Muammar Gaddafi diverged from framed pictures of the fallen dictator that were constantly brandished by his supporters. Back in the U.S., photos of lost loved ones were posted alongside their names at the 9/11 Memorial, in New York City, in a tribute to people who will never be forgotten. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, mourners paid their respects to actress Elizabeth Taylor by surrounding her picture with flowers on her Hollywood Walk of Fame Star.
These photos of photos leave us reminiscing about those pictured, and what their lives must have been like before everything changed. But even the tattered remains of photographs can’t erase what lies in the mind, where memories flourish undisturbed and these moments are never forgotten.
—Erin Skarda January 14, 2011. Narelle Cole gently wipes the fetid silt from a 21-year-old photo of her daughter Kerrie which she salvaged from the ruins of her inundated home in Ipswich. As the flood waters drained from the cities and towns, revealing the full horror of the devastation wrought when the Brisbane River burst its banks, search teams recovered the body of the 16th victim. Torsten Blackwood—AFP / Getty Images February 1, 2011. Photographs of a wife of a US Marine from 1st Battalion, 8th Marines are seen on the door of an armored vehicle at Musa Qala District Center base. A 140,000-strong force of NATO-led international troops stationed in Afghanistan that was fighting Taliban-led insurgency had recently entered its tenth year in the country. Dmitry Kostyukov—AFP / Getty Images February 28, 2011. People burn pictures of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi inside the main prison of Gaddafi's forces in Benghazi. Foreign powers accelerated efforts to help oust Gaddafi as rebels fought government forces trying to take back strategic coastal cities on either side of the capital of Tripoli. Suhaib Salem—Reuters March 2011. A man's photo, attached to his belongings for identification purposes, seen at the Ras al-Jedir checkpoint along with the belongings of countless others fleeing Libya during the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Francesco Giusti April 12, 2011. Volunteers clean baby photos that were washed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami at a volunteer centre in Ofunato, Iwate prefecture. Toru Hanai—Reuters March 16, 2011. A photograph is seen among the ruins caused by the tsunami and earthquake in the city of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, Japan that hit the week before. Ko Sasaki—The New York Times March 23, 2011. Flowers are placed on actress Elizabeth Taylor's Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California. Michael Buckner—Getty Images March 23, 2011. The photo of a man who used to work in Libya and fled the unrest in the country, is seen abandoned near the Tunisia-Libya border, in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia. Emilio Morenatti / AP April 1, 2011. U.S. President Barack Obama's personal assistant Reggie Love carries a photograph of Obama to be signed at a UPS shipping facility in Landover, Maryland. Jim Young / Reuters April 2, 2011. A photo album found among the debris left from Japan's devastating March 11 tsunami in Japan. Paolo Pellegrin—Magnum April 3, 2011. A woman from the Israeli Ethiopian community brandishes photos of her far-flung family during a demonstration outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem. The protesters petitioned the government to allow their relatives to join the 120,000 Ethiopian Jews already in Israel. Menahem Kanaha—AFP/Getty Images April 5, 2011. Photographs of dead people and scenes of torture found in a room inside a burned down police station in Zawiyah, Libya, damaged during fighting between rebel forces and fighters loyal to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Moises Saman—Magnum April 7, 2011. A broken picture frame lies in the mud within the exclusion zone, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away from Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant on Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. Athit Perawongmetha—Getty Images April 13, 2011. A flower is placed on a wall near portraits of victims of a blast at an entrance to the Oktyabrskaya subway station in Minsk, Belarus. The city of Minsk declared the day as the day of mourning for those killed in a subway blast on two days earlier. Belarus said it detained a possible suspect in the subway bombing that killed 12 people and wounded more than 200 others. Sergei Grits / AP April 18, 2011. Photos recovered from tsunami damage and debris are displayed at a gymnasium in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture. Japanese lawmakers grilled the president of the company at the center of the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, demanding he take responsibility for the disaster. Yasuyoshi Chiba—AFP/Getty Images April 18, 2011. An old photo is displayed amongst recovered belongings at a gymnasium in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture. Japanese lawmakers grilled the president of the company at the center of the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, demanding he take responsibility for the disaster. Yasuyoshi Chiba—AFP/Getty Images May 2011. A candlelight march carries portraits of Yemeni citizens killed during protests. Yuri Kozyrev for TIME May 3, 2011. A picture of a person who died in the September 11th attacks at the World Trade Center is seen hanging on a fence at the site in New York, after U.S. forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters May 6, 2011. An Egyptian protester holds a picture of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden close to his heart during a protest held by Islamist groups against the killing of Bin Laden, in front of the US embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Several hundred performed the funeral prayer for the absent, a special rite for the dead in the absence of a body. They then marched toward the U.S. embassy several kilometers away, growing in strength. Khalil Hamra—AP Photo May 21, 2011. In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soot is wiped from a Muammar Gaddafi poster in a building that was bombed and burnt earlier that week, in Tripoli, Libya. Officials said the offices in the building were used to follow up on corruption cases against individuals and ministries. Darko Bandic—AP Photo July 6, 2011. A supporter holds a portrait of Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during a session outside a court building in Kiev. Gleb Garanich—Reuters July 24, 2011. Flowers and tributes are seen outside the home of Amy Winehouse in London. Winehouse, one of the most talented singers of her generation whose hit song "Rehab" summed up her struggles with addiction, died in London on July 23 at the age of 27. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters July 26, 2011. Centro Havana. Four brothers from the Morales family in their room, a "barbacoa" - or room built on the top of the main and only room of the house - where they have to share two beds with their mother. In November 2011, Cuba announced that it will allow real estate to be bought and sold for the first time since the early days of the revolution . Tomas Munita July 30, 2011. A victim's photograph is held up during a rally in San Salvador, El Salvador to commemorate the 36th anniversary of a massacre of student protesters carried out by soldiers in San Salvador in 1975. Demonstrators asked Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes to create a special commission to investigate the massacre. Roberto Escobar / EPA August 8, 2011. Photographs of Libyan government soldiers are seen in the rubble following a NATO airstrike on a military compound in the town of Bir al-Ghanam in western Libya. Libyan rebel fighters took control of the town after a five hour battle with Gaddafi forces, with NATO warplanes striking multiple targets in the town. Bob Strong—Reuters August 21, 2011. A pilgrim attending a mass to mark the Ascension of Mary to Heaven holds a postcard picturing Pope Benedict XVI in her prayer book at Etzelsbach Chapel near Steinbach, Germany. Pope Benedict will visit Etzelsbach as part of his September 22-25 visit to Germany. Etzelsbach Chapel, located in the Eichsfeld region of Thuringia state, has been drawing pilgrims since the 16th century. Sean Gallup / Getty Images August 24, 2011. Young rebels show photo albums of former State Secretary Condoleeza Rice, found in former Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi's Bab Al Aziziya residence in Tripoli, Libya. Ammar Abd Rabbo / ABACAUSA.COM August 26, 2011. A photo of Seif al-Islam and Saadi Gaddafi, the sons of Muammar Gaddafi, is seen in one of the homes within his former compound Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, Libya. Seamus Murphy—VII August 27, 2011. Relatives and friends of Maria Guadalupe Monsivais—one of the 52 victims of the Casino Royale fire-- mourn next to her coffin during her wake in Monterrey, Mexico. Mexico offered a reward of $2.4 million for information leading to the arrest of armed men who torched the casino on August 25, 2011, leaving 52 people to burn and choke to death in a blazing inferno. Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images August 28, 2011. A Libyan rebel fighter shows photographs of Muammar Gaddafi with his wife Safiya Farkache, found at their beach house in Tripoli. Zohra Bensemra—Reuters September 10, 2011. A woman looks at pictures of anti-Gaddafi fighters, killed during the current revolution, hanging on the wall of a court house in Liberation square in Benghazi. Asmaa Waguih—Reuters September 11, 2011. Corey Gaugioso traces the name of his sister, Candace Lee Williams, at the north pool of the 9.11 Memorial during tenth anniversary ceremonies in New York. His sister was was on flight 11, which crashed into the same tower where she worked for Merrill Lynch. David Handschuh / Pool / EPA Sept. 27, 2011. An Afghan protester carries a portrait of Afghan former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed the week before in a suicide bombing, during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan. Hundreds of supporters of Rabbani marched on the streets of Kabul and condemned the killing of their leader. Musadeq Sadeq—AP Photo October 17, 2011. Palestinians rally with pictures of relatives imprisoned in Israeli jails, during a protest to vent their angers that their jailed relatives are not included among the prisoners exchange deal, in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Israel and Hamas reached a deal that would see the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was snatched from the Gaza Strip on June 25, 2006 during a cross-border raid carried out by Hamas and two other Palestinian militias, in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. Atef Safadi—EPA November 1, 2011. A tombstone is seen partially submerged at the cemetery of a flooded temple where hundreds of victims found shelter in Laksi, a northern Bangkok suburb. Anger mounted among victims of Thailand's catastrophic floods as water flooded new neighborhoods and the government plotted a recovery aimed at securing the long-term confidence of investors. Dario Pignatelli—Polaris November 8, 2011. A photograph of a student is seen on top of prayer beads, while her mother prays for her success in the college entrance examinations, at a temple in Seoul. In South Korea there is no higher achievement than to be accepted by a prestigious university. Many students prepare for these entrance exams from an early age, often studying up to 16 hours a day for years to take this test. Lee Jae-Won—Reuters November 11, 2011. A member of the Royal Air Force holds up a photograph of a comrade next to the names of the fallen at the National Memorial Arboretum on Armstice day in Alrewas, United Kingdom. Sir James Hawley, KCVO, Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, led the list of dignitaries at the Armed Forces Memorial during Armistice Day commemorations at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas. Christopher Furlong—Getty Images November 16, 2011. A view of time books of forced laborers from the Second World War period at the city archives in Stralsund, Germany. Records of more than 4,000 forced laborers in northern Pomerania have been studied for the first time by a German-Polish research project. Stefan Sauer—EPA November 29, 2011. Iranian students storm the British Embassy in Tehran, throwing rocks, petrol bombs and burning documents. The mob surged past riot police into the British Embassy complex after Iran's parliament approved a bill that reduced diplomatic relations with Britain following London's support of recently upgraded Western sanctions on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program. Newsha Tavakolian / Polaris December 20, 2011. A picture of a young girl found amongst debris. Typhoon Washi has so far killed more than 1000 people, and more than 500 are missing. In the city of Cagayan De Oro are some people returning to their homes, while other have built temporary houses. Alexander Widding—Demotix/Corbis