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

Dmitry Kostyukov—AFP / Getty Images
Dmitry Kostyukov—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.

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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