For the second year in a row, Texas Monthly photographers were forced to confront the challenging reality of working during a pandemic. Nevertheless, with face masks and vaccine cards in tow, they fanned out across the state, pursuing assignments with the same dedication and vigor that has long distinguished the magazine’s visual storytelling. 

This year’s stories took Nick Simonite on a road trip to Colorado, where he encountered wild horses grazing along desolate mountain trails. Longtime contributor Dan Winters traveled to West Texas for a haunting exploration of a post-bust Permian Basin, and Arturo Olmos visited a skate park in Houston, where he was tasked with keeping up with skateboarding prodigy Jordan Santana. Brenda Bazán spent a day with a mariachi choir near the U.S.-Mexico border in San Juan, where she documented a beloved art form unfolding in a stained-glass sanctuary, and photographer Chelsea Kyle delighted us with a mouthwatering depiction of this year’s most popular side dish (spoiler alert: it’s corn!).

Texpat Shayan Asgharnia happily returned home to capture unforgettable, unguarded portraits of Fort Worth native Leon Bridges, and Jai Lennard used his ballet background and his Texas roots to capture showstopping images of Houston Ballet soloist and social media influencer Harper Watters dancing on a downtown rooftop. Try not to crack a smile when you lock eyes with Barry Corbin’s winking visage, captured—and likely provoked—by photographer LeAnn Mueller. And when it comes to emotionally stirring images this year, few are as powerful—or made us as proud to publish—as Rahim Fortune’s portrait of a tight hug between Lydell Grant and his mother as they pursued a declaration of “actual innocence” after Grant’s 27 years of wrongful imprisonment.

Below you’ll find these standouts and a few more of what we consider to be our best photographs of 2021.