TIME Looks Back at The Best Photos… of Photos from 2011

Torsten Blackwood—AFP / Getty Images
Torsten Blackwood—AFP / Getty Images
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.

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


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