How We Looked at the Arts This Year: Our Favorite Photographs

The artist Sheena Rose at her home studio in Barbados. “I see this photo as a collaboration,” the photographer, Rose Marie Cromwell said of the shoot. “Sheena often uses costumes that she has made or appropriated for performances.”
Credit...Rose Marie Cromwell for The New York Times

We want art to transport us, to take us beyond ourselves and the stubborn gravity of our lives. That’s one lesson from the selection of exceptional arts photography below, all commissioned or published by our photo editors this year. Memorable subjects like the actor Mark Hamill, the acrobat Elena Gatilova and the professional wrestler Jinder Mahal used their particular gifts to open portals to other worlds, resurrecting Luke Skywalker, making poetry out of aerial performance or conquering the WWE in the process.

But that’s not all. The best artists can stir up deep feelings and remind us what it means to be human. And so it was with Nicole Kidman. Photographed for The Times with a mischievous smile, she played a wife and mother pushed to her limit in “Big Little Lies.” And Kumail Nanjiani, whose breakthrough performance in “The Big Sick” made theatergoers laugh and cry and return their mothers’ phone calls. Our photographers framed his pouty mug against a radiant wall of bougainvillea.

What else? In these times, fresh perspectives are in demand — new eyes with which to see and get to know the world. The visual artists JR and Sheena Rose got the memo. JR, photographed next to the Mexican border, erected a sculpture there of a child peering over a metal barrier into the United States; Ms. Rose, who donned a shimmering, prismatic veil in her portrait, made art that reframed her native Barbados as more than a torrid tourist’s escape.

In another photo in this collection, of Bruce Springsteen behind the wheel of a vintage car, the viewer is deposited into the back seat, with the Boss glancing over his shoulder and staring directly into the camera lens. His expression is relaxed, conspiratorial, like that of a getaway driver before a heist or simply a veteran musician firing up the creative engine once more. That, of course, is another thing that art can do: give us the fuel we need to move forward.

— The photographer Kendrick Brinson

— The Jamaican reggae musician Chronixx, left, performing in Brooklyn in July

Angelina Jolie

— The photographer John Francis Peters

— From our dance critic Brian Seibert’s review of “The Rite of Spring,” performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Kahlil Joseph, on his film “Fly Paper,” which had its debut at the New Museum in the fall

Shamir, on why his latest album, “Revelations,” was a dramatic departure from his signature sound

— Our theater critic Jesse Green, on “Seeing You,” an interactive performance piece set in Hoboken, N.J., during World War II

— The photographer Jessica Lehrman

— The photographer Graham Walzer

— The photographer Bryan Derballa

— Damon Winter, who photographed the star of the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen”

— The dancer Isabella Boylston, on the work she asked Gemma Bond to create for the Ballet Sun Valley festival, which had its debut in August

— The photographer Vincent Tullo

— Martha Graham, whose works, including a shorter version of “Clytemnestra,” featuring PeiJu Chien-Pott, above, were performed in February by the dance company she founded in 1926

André Leon Talley, on Kate Novack’s documentary about him, “The Gospel According to André”

— The photographer M. Scott Brauer, who shot the WWE star Jinder Mahal

— The photographer Valerie Chiang

— The photographer Sasha Arutyunova, who shadowed the dancer Claire Kretzschmar

— The photographer Philip Montgomery

Eiko Otake, an artist in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan in early 2017

Katy Perry

— Emily Berl, who photographed the fourth annual Selena Fan Gathering in Los Angeles

— The photographer Bryan Derballa

— The musician Sudan Archives, who released her self-titled debut EP in July

— Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, where “Tosca” opens on Dec. 31

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