Visual Culture

Follow These 20 Photographers to Understand the World’s Most Important Issues

Demie Kim
Dec 29, 2016 1:00PM

As our quest for authenticity grows by the day and trust in official media outlets wanes, some are looking to get their information directly from the original source. Instagram continues to be a valuable platform on which some of the year’s news events have been photographed by those closest to their core—before news cameras have arrived—and as such offers some of the most genuine depictions of key struggles facing our world. With the help of insight provided by Instagram’s community team, we surveyed the year’s biggest events and issues, and those that we’ll face in 2017, to pick out 20 accounts to follow to keep up in a rapidly changing world.

Mark Peterson (@markpetersonpixs)

Follow for: Political Coverage

Peterson’s cinematic, close-up portraits of U.S. presidential candidates and their supporters are among the most dramatic images taken along this year’s campaign trail, finding their way to covers of TIME magazine and NY Mag, among others. Highly contrasted and garishly lit, his black-and-white images chronicled the insanity of the protests and rallies leading up to the election—and remain a powerful record in its wake.

Brittany Greeson (@brittanygreeson)

Follow for: Coverage of Flint’s water crisis

While documenting the water crisis in Flint, Michigan—conveying residents’ fears for the health of their children, as well as their efforts to alleviate the catastrophe—Detroit-based photographer Greeson also commemorated one of its cherished community traditions, prom, to show the resilience of the community amidst the crisis.

Camille Seaman (@camilleseaman)

Follow for: Climate change and Standing Rock

Californian photographer Seaman, who has documented the effects of global warming in the polar regions since 2003, made her way to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation three months ago to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Her captivating individual portraits, along with photos of water protectors in action, reveal the strength and solidarity exhibited at the campsite.

Robin Hammond (@hammond_robin)

Follow for: LGBT Visibility

Photographer and activist Hammond is co-founder of Witness Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the power of visual storytelling to fight the human rights violations faced by marginalized groups. In his ongoing “Witness Change” campaign, he shines light on survivors of LGBTQ+ persecution around the world. Recently, Hammond photographed and interviewed young children for National Geographic’s special January 2017 issue on the “Gender Revolution,” its first to feature a transgender person on the cover.

Matilde Gattoni (@matildegattoni)

Follow for: Climate change and human rights

Italian photographer Gattoni, a member of Instagram collective Every Day Climate Change, highlights the impact of climate change on communities across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. A recent series of photographs shows the consequences of coastal erosion in West Africa, where homes, schools, and livelihoods have been destroyed by the high tide precipitated by global warming.

Devin Allen (@bydvnlln

Follow for: Black Lives Matter protests and communities; post-U.S. Election protests

Following 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody in 2015, Baltimore-based photographer Allen’s black-and-white images of protests and unrest in his home city went viral on Instagram; his now-iconic photograph of a young black protester mid-stride, with a police troop behind him, made the cover of TIME’s May 11, 2015 issue. Since then, Allen has continued to photograph in and around Baltimore, covering local youth culture as well as Black Lives Matter and post-election protests.

Ronny Sen (@ronnysen)

Follow for: Coal Mines of Jharia, India

For the past four years, Indian photographer Sen has documented the apocalyptic landscape of Jharia, India—once a lush forest—where coal fires have burned underground since 1916. The fires have led to rampant destruction in nearby villages, ravaging homes and creating health problems for locals. The resulting images, chronicled in his project “The End,” expose the realities of these mineworkers and their families to the world—and have won Sen the 2016 Getty Images Instagram Grant. 

David Guttenfelder (@dguttenfelder)

Follow for: Geopolitical conflict and cultural issues

Following over 40 trips to North Korea, where he helped AP establish a bureau (the first Western news agency to have a branch in the isolated country), Instagram veteran Guttenfelder returned to the U.S. in 2014 and has since captured landscapes and communities across his native Midwest, often for National Geographic. Images he posts to Instagram are strictly taken by mobile phone—and in this past year alone, Guttenfelder’s subjects have included Trump’s presidential campaign, President Obama’s visit to Yosemite, and Fidel Castro’s nationwide funeral.

Abbie Trayler-Smith (@abbiets)

Follow for: Women living in Iraqi war zones

Inspired by the work of war photographer Philip Jones Griffiths, self-taught British photographer Trayler-Smith covered the Darfur conflict, Indian Ocean tsunami, and the Iraq War for The Daily Telegraph before going on to focus on long-term photo projects, including an award-winning series on childhood obesity, “The Big O.” Lately, her subject is women living in Iraqi war zones, including those who have been displaced by ISIS.

Adriana Zehbrauskas (@adrianazehbrauskas)

Follow for: Climate change and underreported communities in Latin America

One of the winners of the inaugural Getty Images Instagram Grant last year, Brazilian-born, Mexico City-based photojournalist Zehbrauskas tells stories around climate change and the everyday lives of underreported communities across Latin America. Following the 2014 Iguala kidnapping of 43 college students, Zehbrauskas undertook a project, titled Family Matters, to take portraits of the victim’s families, many of whom lacked photos of their lost loved ones.

Michael Christopher Brown (@michaelchristopherbrown)

Follow for: Post-Fidel Castro Cuba

Brown’s subjects range from the 2011 Libyan Revolution to train journeys through China. The Magnum photographer is currently based in Cuba, where he is documenting the capital city’s electrifying youth and nightlife scene, and most recently, the country’s powerful response to Fidel Castro’s death.

Nepal Photo Project (@nepalphotoproject)

Follow for: Recovery efforts following the Nepal earthquake

This account, co-founded by Kathmandu-born photographer Sumit Dayal, documents the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that hit Nepal in April 2015, capturing the debris that continues to be cleared from destroyed homes along with images of rebuilding and communal healing. The account was created to direct international aid efforts, allowing NGOS to target aid to communities most in need of help.

Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt)

Follow for: Poverty across America

Traveling over 48,000 miles across 44 U.S. states for his ongoing project, “The Geography of Poverty,” Black photographs communities with poverty rates over 20% to explore—and raise awareness around—the links between agriculture, the environment, and poverty. “People should care because we’re all implicated in this system,” he told TIME. “What we pay at the supermarket is what eventually goes to the farms and goes to the farm laborers...[if] I can lift that veil and make that connection between what we eat, the choices we make, and how that impacts real people—communities—that’s the role I can play.”

Annie Tritt (@transcendingself)

Follow for: Gender awareness

Tritt’s ongoing Instagram project “Transcending Self” aims to increase visibility around transgender and gender-expansive youth to promote acceptance, foster support, and ultimately save lives (the suicide rates for trans youth with support are 13% lower than for those without). Her account features portraits of transgender and gender-expansive youth, ages two to 20, from the U.S. and Europe; accompanying stories relate the challenges, and joys, experienced by the subjects and their loved ones.

Ruddy Roye (@ruddyroye)

Follow for: Perspectives of Black Individuals across America

Jamaica-born, Brooklyn-based photographer Roye—founder of Everyday Black America—captures portraits of black communities across America, from Brooklyn to Detroit to Chicago, with the goal of spreading mutual empathy and cultural awareness. “Before anything, before language, we see,” he told TIME, who recently named him Instagram Photographer of 2016. “And if I can make you think about a particular subject matter before you even start to talk about it, then that’s my aim.”

Marko Drobnjakovic (@xmd101)

Follow for: Refugee crisis 

Serbian photographer Drobnjakovic captures portraits of Syrian migrants at the Idomeni campsite, as well as those who have taken refuge in his home country. Through his images of quiet moments of solitude and camaraderie, he hopes to “allow empathy without pity, to offer connectedness instead of conformity,” as he explains on his website. Recently featured on his Instagram feed is a series of portraits of fighters against the Islamic State in Northern Iraq.

Zalmai (@zalmai)

Follow for: Refugee crisis

Afghan photojournalist Zalmai was a refugee himself—along with his older brother, he fled Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet occupation and made his way all the way to Switzerland. For the past decade and a half, Zalmai has dedicated his practice to the plight of refugees around the world, most recently turning his lens to those migrating from war zones in Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan.

Smita Sharma (@smitashrm)

Follow for: Support victims of sexual assault and trafficking in India

New York and Kolkata-based photographer Sharma focuses on the experience of women across India, including rape survivors and victims of sex trafficking. “Sharing their story is the first step to understanding and ultimately eradicating such madness from our world,” she told Instagram.

Pablo Unzueta (@pablounzueta_)

Follow for: Overlooked and underserved communities in America

This Chilean-American photographer is dedicated to telling the stories of individuals outside of mainstream society, from gentrified families in San Francisco’s Mission District to impoverished communities and street vendors in his native Los Angeles. As Unzueta writes in one of his captions, he “didn’t become involved with photography for the skill show...This journey was born out of the overwhelming feeling of seeing so much destitution in a powerhouse country.”

James Whitlow Delano (@jameswhitlowdelano)

Follow for: Climate change and food insecurity

Simultaneously capturing the beauty of natural environments and the communities threatened by climate change, Delano—founder of Everyday Climate Change—has documented the interconnected effects of global warming, food insecurity, and famine from the Ethiopian Highlands to the Bay of Bengal.

Demie Kim