By Dean Baquet, executive editor
Certain years are so eventful they are regarded as pivotal in history, years when wars and slavery ended and deep generational fissures burst into the open — 1865, 1945 and 1968 among them. The year 2020 will certainly join this list. It will long be remembered and studied as a time when more than 1.5 million people globally died during a pandemic, racial unrest gripped the world, and democracy itself faced extraordinary tests.
The photographs in this collection capture those historic 12 months. Jeffrey Henson Scales, who edited The Year in Pictures with David Furst, said he had never felt such sweep and emotion from a single year’s images — from the “joy and optimism” of a New Year’s Eve kiss in Times Square, to angry crowds on the streets of Hong Kong and in American cities, to scenes of painful debates over race and policing, to the “seemingly countless graves and coffins across the globe.”
The impeachment of an American president culminated in early 2020. But two pictures taken in late January in Wuhan, China, are hints of a larger cataclysm to come. In one aerial shot, construction workers are building a giant hospital virtually overnight to handle hundreds of patients stricken with the coronavirus. The other looks like a still from a sci-fi film: A man dressed in black, wearing a white mask, lies dead on a city street; two emergency workers have stepped away from him and gaze at the viewer — all but their eyes hidden by face coverings and ghostly white protective suits.
Then the virus swept the world, recorded in indelible images. The scenes of people comforting beloved family members through glass and cellphones are heartbreaking. Some of the most haunting images are of emptiness. Still cities. Vacant streets of London and the Place de la Concorde. A desolate Munich subway station. Among the most disturbing is a photo of a refrigerated trailer set up as a makeshift morgue in Greenwich Village.
Punctuating these scenes are photographs of a tumultuous American election that even without the ravages of the virus would end up looming large in history books. As the year progresses, fueled by police shootings of young Black men, powerfully symbolic pictures of protests begin appearing. In May, a lone demonstrator carries an upside-down American flag past a burning liquor store in Minneapolis, in protest of the killing of George Floyd.
In 2020, a year when all aspects of life seemed transformed, so was the process of making these photographs. Journalists are observers, not participants, but the most striking sense to emerge from interviews with the photographers who took these pictures — described by Mr. Henson Scales as the most diverse group in his more than a decade curating this annual compilation — was how much they too lived what they witnessed. No one could escape the virus and vitalness of 2020. It gave photographers fresh perspective. And they gave us unforgettable images from a historic year in our lives.
“Everyone was so hopeful and excited making proclamations that 2020 was going to be their year. It just seems like a horrible joke now. It seemed like we were ringing in a very special year, and we were, but wow.”
— Calla Kessler
This trip to Iowa was Brittainy Newman’s first time on the campaign trail, and this image came from one of her last opportunities to photograph anyone in such close quarters this year.
“They were praying for him on his journey, on this trail he’s going on, and for him to become president and wishing the world would get someone new,” she said. “Everyone was trying desperately to believe. Even Biden’s face — he’s staring right at Clara Jones. He was just staring at her, and her hands — they never let go. They just kept saying ‘Amen, amen.’ You could feel it. It was like a crescendo building up. Everyone at the end had goosebumps.”
“Once a fire goes through, things are just so quiet. You don’t realize all the bugs, all the birds, all the little beings make these noises. It’s just so disconcerting to be walking through this destroyed forest and have complete silence.”
— Matthew Abbott
Ivor Prickett traveled to Benghazi in Libya, from where he had reported years earlier, after being granted the rare permission to photograph the eastern part of the country.
“It was basically unrecognizable,” Mr. Prickett said after his chance to get a look at a part of the nation that had been largely cut off to foreigners for years. “I couldn’t really figure out what was where. It did come back to me, but it was one of the most heavily destroyed scenes I’ve seen in years, and that’s saying a lot because I’ve been in Mosul and Raqqa.”
Officials in Benghazi kept steering Mr. Prickett away from the old, colonial part of the city. He found a way to sneak in with the help of friends, and eventually persuaded officials to let him work there.
“At night it was particularly poignant, because there was no electricity and would just be lit by lights of cars,” he said. “There were people living amongst the ruins. It was really evocative and spooky. And I was walking around and saw one of the most heavily destroyed streets and saw this one light probably as far as the eye could see across three or four blocks on the second or third floor of an apartment block. It looked so out of place in this completely gutted building.
“I was waiting for a car to come down the street to light the buildings with a slow exposure, then just by chance this cat walked across in front of the car, and that was the picture. I had the car and the cat, and I knew I had the picture and just packed up and went home.”
Meridith Kohut wanted to show how the economic collapse in Venezuela was devastating the country’s health care system by illustrating the plight of pregnant women.
Ms. Kohut and Julie Turkewitz, the Andes bureau chief for The New York Times, followed one woman in labor who was turned away from several hospitals before planting herself in front of one and refusing to leave.
“She had been in labor for 40 hours,” Ms. Kohut said. “She just said, ‘I’m not going to go try anywhere else.’ She eventually fainted and a bunch of other pregnant women who had just started labor were there and they and their families all started banging on the door.
“We were afraid she was going to die. I took a photo of her when she fainted, and her mom was screaming and pleading for help. Then everyone in the Times team dropped our cameras and everything and we all started banging on the door, too, and then they finally let her inside. And unfortunately, her baby died the next morning.
“The crisis is so bad that to do a funeral is like the equivalent of a year’s worth of minimum-wage salary. So she couldn’t afford to bury the baby and had to leave the body in the morgue. It was absolutely heartbreaking.”
Hector Retamal remembers taking the train from Shanghai to Wuhan, China, in January, as the city was locking down.
A woman approached him and asked where he was going.“‘It’s no good. It’s dangerous. Don’t go to Wuhan,’” he recalled her saying. “People were really afraid of the virus.”
Mr. Retamal arrived to find a deserted train station and a ghost town of a city of some 11 million people.
He and a videographer spent about 10 days there. The two men often had to walk, lugging their gear across the sprawling city and trying to keep a low profile from the police, who would shoo them back to their hotels.
Coming across a man’s body on the ground not far from one hospital was startling, Mr. Retamal said. The scene unfolded in utter chaos and confusion.
“My question was what was he doing there,” Mr. Retamal said. “He didn’t move and, wow, is he dead? I was starting to take photos because it was strange and at that exact moment a woman started to scream, saying ‘No, no, no,’ and she asked us to leave the place, and she was angry.”
More people arrived, surrounding Mr. Retamal and telling him not to take photos.
Everyone kept their distance from the man until people in white protective suits and masks arrived and placed him in a yellow body bag. They sprayed disinfectant around the area where he had lain.
The police began to arrive, and Mr. Retamal hurried away. He and his colleagues never officially confirmed that the man had died of Covid-19; nobody would answer their questions.
“This event was an hour of him saying, you guys tried and failed. It was celebratory. He was oozing confidence. The room was just filled with confidence.”
— Anna Moneymaker
Armando Franca has been going to Nazaré, Portugal, for the past decade to watch surfers brave huge waves.
“It is crazy to be there and watch these people going out into a really scary sea,” he said. “Every time I go I’m still amazed at what they’re willing to do.”
The competition was especially poignant for one of the surfers, Maya Gabeira, who several years ago was injured and had to be rescued in what could have been a deadly accident on the waves.
Thousands of spectators were lined on cliffs above the water this year.
“The waves are so big that if you’re down below by the beach you don’t see anything other than just spray and foam,” Mr. Franca said.
The surfers are careful and organized. They wear life vests, carry a small canister of oxygen and work in teams of two, with one riding a Jet Ski in case a surfer needs help.
Still, the waves are huge and dangerous. Ms. Gabeira conquered a massive 73½-foot wave, setting a record for the biggest ever surfed by a woman.
“This was at the end of the day and the dog was just sitting there, just waiting.”
— Victor Llorente
An unimaginable toll around the world
By the end of January, the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan, China, a global health emergency. As the virus made its way around the world, fear of contagion changed everything about how photographers worked, undermining the intimacy that comes from spending time in proximity to subjects.
In late March, Fabio Bucciarelli was in Bergamo, Italy, where infections were surging. “It was some kind of laboratory for the world,” he said. “But there were no images from inside.”
Every day, Italian television reported a counting of the dead. Still, Mr. Bucciarelli said, “nobody was ready for this.”
He trailed health care workers inside the home of Claudio Travelli, who was ill with the virus, as they examined him. Mr. Travelli was eventually taken to a hospital, where he stayed for three weeks.
By early December, the global toll of the pandemic had reached staggering numbers: 65 million people sickened and 1.5 million people dead.
Mr. Travelli was not among those who lost their lives.
“He started back to work and started living his life again,” Mr. Bucciarelli said. “It was one of the few happy stories.”
Jim Huylebroek had been trying to photograph the Taliban on their home turf for years, constantly being denied permission when he inquired.
Finally, an opportunity arose this year when he was allowed to travel with Mujib Mashal, a New York Times senior correspondent, to the eastern part of Afghanistan. The trip was nerve-racking, especially when the asphalt road turned into dirt as his car crossed from government-controlled territory to the Taliban’s turf, and camouflaged men with guns approached the car. The men allowed Mr. Huylebroek to photograph them, and as they stood to the side of the road and children passed, he captured the moment.
Victor Moriyama had been traveling for work in mid-March when he arrived back home in São
Paolo to find the city was bracing for the virus.
President Jair Bolsonaro had been downplaying the threat of the illness, and citizens were worried and angry. They were protesting, but doing so safely from inside their homes. Mr. Moriyama wanted to capture the protest from outside one of the city’s most famous buildings, and took the photo as dozens of residents came to their windows to express their displeasure with their president.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “The noise from the people was like a kind of orchestra.”
“What this picture shows is that the people in the U.K. were actually acting a long time before the government did, which is exactly what the government has been accused of — dragging its feet.”
— Andrew Testa
In February and March, Ashley Gilbertson was trying to document how New Yorkers were feeling as they watched the news about the virus devastating first Wuhan, China, and then cities in Italy.
To Mr. Gilbertson, the photo represented the moment when New Yorkers knew what was coming their way but didn’t quite know what to do. “We were trying to be normal, but trying to start taking some sort of precautions — but what? What do you do? It was a picture of walking a line with virtually no information.”
In March, a coronavirus outbreak hit Jewish communities in New Rochelle, and Mr. Gilbertson knew people there traveled back and forth to Borough Park, Brooklyn. With the Jewish holiday of Purim approaching, he went to Borough Park to see whether people were being cautious or celebrating. He found hundreds of people dressed up and dancing in the streets.
“I hopped in my car to go to a different part of the neighborhood and as I pulled up to the block, I saw those three little girls crammed into the window, watching everyone celebrating,” he said. “I took the picture. In the frame after that photo, the girls were looking at me. In the next frame, they were gone. It was one of these moments that was absolutely stolen. It existed for a tiny moment before they saw me.”
Andrea Mantovani started the first morning of the Paris lockdown in the iconic Place de la Concorde.
Her father used to take her there as a child to show her the vibrant, busting life of her hometown. She was stunned to find it empty amid a gray sky that served as the backdrop.
“I felt like the Americans landing on the moon,” she said.
She snapped just one photo before she carried on with her work and it was only when she returned home and viewed the photo on her laptop that she realized how breathtaking it was to see the plaza so devoid of life.
“I wasn’t looking for a masterpiece,” she said. “For me, my emotions were the masterpiece. I was totally in shock.”
“Now, whether it’s going into people’s homes or covering a protest, I am constantly making calculations as to how much risk I am taking — wondering how much time is too much in any one place.”
— Todd Heisler
Joshua Bickel was sent to cover Gov. Mike DeWine’s daily briefing at the Ohio Statehouse in April because his colleague at The Columbus Dispatch had been furloughed, part of an attempt to stem pandemic-related financial losses at the paper.
Mr. Bickel had seen several protesters at the Capitol a few days earlier and had heard more were expected there to register their opposition to the governor’s mask mandate. Some photographers were outside taking pictures of the protesters, but Mr. Bickel made a conscious choice to remain inside. The protesters were unmasked and he didn’t want to risk it.
“It was April and I didn’t know what was going to go on,” he said. “I wanted to keep myself safe and keep my family safe.”
During the news conference, some of the protesters approached the outside of the briefing room and began banging on the windows and chanting. There was a lull in the briefing, so Mr. Bickel had a moment to walk around.
“I looked out the doors where they were and saw them standing there and I thought to myself, ‘That is really intense.’ They were up on the doors banging. The framing of the doors was kind of interesting to me in terms of the composition. I went to a more forward angle. They were chanting outside, and you could hear them all doing it at once, and I was trying to get them all visually doing it at the same time. In the photo, their mouths were all open and that was a choice that accurately reflected what they’re doing at the time. I wanted to do something that would have an impact. And I was only in front of it for 10 to 15 seconds at the most. I walked farther down by the windows and a guy outside flipped me off, and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m good.’”
Victor Blue worked with the New York Times reporter Sheri Fink at the start of the pandemic, documenting Covid-19 as it raged through hospitals in New York.
“Everybody in the city was scared,” Mr. Blue said. “The hardest thing at first was so much confusion around the virus and what it meant for vulnerable people, especially pregnant mothers.” Mr. Blue had seen Precious Anderson, who was pregnant, on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. “She was not doing well — it did not appear she was going to make it,” he said. While Ms. Anderson was intubated, doctors delivered her baby by cesarean section, and within a couple of days, Ms. Anderson improved. “We were happy to be able to do a story early on that brought some kind of hope, that people could see there were folks who were surviving it,” he said. “That wasn’t the case for most people intubated.”
Stephen Speranza had been photographing chaotic scenes in April in New York near Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, among the facilities hit hardest by the virus early on. He went to a nearby family-owned funeral home.
“They had been working so long and so hard,” he said. “They had a good camaraderie going.” In the funeral home, the hallway led to one big room in the very back. “It had one of those curtain dividers and it was pulled wide open and the boxes were just laid out across the chairs. Cardboard boxes made for bodies.”
“I don’t know if they ran out of boxes or what, but they had a couple chairs with just a piece of plywood across and there was a deceased person on it with just a sheet laid out over it.”
Julio Cortez has long searched out the American flag to tell a story, knowing the important role it has played from Iwo Jima to the landing on the moon to the raising of the banner by firefighters after the attacks of Sept. 11.
On the last Thursday in May, days after the killing of George Floyd, Mr. Cortez was standing outside the Minneapolis police precinct that had been evacuated and set on fire by protesters.
“This photo was taken at 11:59 and 38 seconds,” he said. “It was just kind of symbolic of the turning point of the day. This was taken after spending about five hours photographing a lot of destruction, a lot of anger, a lot of emotion.”
“I was able to spot this man kind of away from everything,” he said. “He was a very tall person, and I’m not a tall person, and so for me to keep up I had to walk quickly. I wanted to position myself to show him with the fire behind him, knowing that the upside down flag is a symbol of distress.”
Mr. Cortez did not find out the man’s name, but believes his anonymity adds to the symbolism of the moment. “I kind of like it that he’s not identifiable. My director of photography said it perfectly: This could be anybody. That’s what makes it kind of special.”
Doug Mills has been photographing President Trump for The New York Times for the past four years. For most of 2020, fears about contracting the coronavirus while working in the White House and traveling with the president have weighed heavily on his mind.
“I think about it 24-7, from being worried about getting Covid, to sleepless nights thinking I had it, to worrying about bringing it home to my wife and my family, to dealing with it at every rally,” he said. “Literally from the time you wake up in the morning you thought about it. Everything you covered was impacted by Covid and being in the White House. Knock on wood, I didn’t get it, but I’m pretty religious about wearing a mask and I’m sure there’s some luck involved, too. It affected my work, day in and day out. It never leaves your mind — when you get off a plane and are fully masked up and you go into a rally, and no one is in a mask.”
“Since the circus was closed and a lot of the performers were stuck elsewhere, the older kids of the circus were able to play on this aerial hoop every day. It was the center of this closed-down circus.”
— Nadia Shira Cohen
“It was so weird,” said Daniel Arnold, of his assignment to take a portrait of Jerry Seinfeld over FaceTime. As a street photographer, Mr. Arnold had been photographing city life since the pandemic began.
“I just went out every day no matter what and walked and looked and rubbed my face in it, but I hadn’t had a job the whole time, so this was a curveball to have a FaceTime with Jerry Seinfeld.”
It was the beginning of May, and an in-person portrait seemed too risky.
“It was in my apartment, completely alone and visibly nervous; for some reason I really choked,” Mr. Arnold said. “I’m in my apartment taking pictures of Jerry Seinfeld on my TV, the most natural place for him to be, and there was a shockwave in the room, but also there was nothing I was going to do to change that. At that point, it was way too nerve-racking to be in a room with anybody. Everyone was in this stage of trying to figure out how to take pictures of each other.”
Al Bello, a sports photographer at Getty, was asked to cover the coronavirus outbreak since almost every kind of sport had been shut down.
On Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Bello learned that extended family on Long Island was gathering for the first time since the pandemic took hold. The grandparents were sad that they couldn’t touch their grandchildren. The family set up an elaborate backyard system with a plastic dropcloth strung over a clothesline so everyone could safely hug.
“It was translucent and I thought, ‘Well, if they hug, they might make some shapes with their faces,’” Mr. Bello said. “I just thought, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ Then the parents came. The kids, the grandparents, the husband, the wife. The grandmother got extremely emotional and was hugging the kids and holding their faces — grabbing their faces and not letting go.
“It was much more emotional than I’d anticipated, and I was just like, ‘Oof, this is happening right now.’ I just stood off to one side. It was nothing fancy, it was just what was happening in front of me.”
“The realization that New York City needs to be fed and there are people hurting and the virus was still bad as people were starting to venture out — the whole thing just broke my heart. This wasn’t an assignment. This was my initiated story. I thought it was important.
— Yunghi Kim
“They had kicked all the homeless people off the trains and I thought it was really eerie to see the police tape up there. The whole scene felt like a noir film. It actually looked pretty spooky, which is really what the feeling of the city was and is. At the time there was so much unknown, and they were cleaning up the subways as if they were a crime scene.”
— Hilary Swift
Ryan Christopher Jones was holed up in a hotel room in the Boston area in May, and every time the phone rang, he steeled himself. He was assigned to photograph last rites for victims of the coronavirus, and each phone call meant a death was imminent.
“It was definitely a difficult head place to be in,” Mr. Jones said. “I was just waiting for people to die.
“Once I got the call I would mobilize and hop in the car and put on my P.P.E. and had to be in the hospital within 20 minutes.
“I knew it was going to be an emotional challenge, but I had photographed sensitive stories before — a lot of addiction and overdose and immigration at the border. I’m used to situations fraught with emotion, but this was a different experience.”
The last rites were condensed to limit the priests’ exposure to the virus, so what normally would have been a 15-minute event lasted only about 90 seconds.
“I wanted to maintain the dignity of these people but I had to watch where I stepped because there were tubes all over and lines that were primed, and I didn’t want to block someone from getting fluids. I’m literally tiptoeing around this room for 90 seconds trying to make meaningful photos. It was by far the most intense thing I’ve ever photographed.”
“This woman, she really broke my heart. It really reflects this deep pain that the city has felt over the past years. George Floyd wasn’t the only high-profile killing. This moment felt like a culmination of all those moments of injustice that have happened in Minneapolis and Minnesota.”
— Patience Zalanga
From a death in police custody to a national reckoning
Black Lives Matter
The video from the night of May 25 in Minneapolis made its way around the United States and eventually the world: George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was pinned to the ground by a white police officer, could be heard repeatedly saying the words
“I can’t breathe.”
Mr. Floyd’s death in police custody led to protests against racial injustice in more than 150 American cities.
The photographer Demetrius Freeman has been documenting the Black Lives Matter movement since 2013, when he was assigned to cover the protests after the acquittal of the man accused of killing Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager.
“There are a lot of stories that pull at me, but in this case I kept thinking, ‘Wow, that could have been me,’ and hearing my parents say the same thing,” he said.
A week after Mr. Floyd’s death, Mr. Freeman was at a protest in New York when he noticed a man with “I can’t breathe” on a flag. He felt as though the movement had taken on new urgency.
“Marching down a street you would see people — young white people — who you never would have thought of in 2013, banging pots and pans together and chanting ‘Black Lives Matter,’” he said.
Simbarashe Cha photographed a march in Harlem, where he lives, on the day of a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Protesters in New York had decided to dress up in honor of the day since they couldn’t attend the funeral in person.
“I was really proud of us as people of color who wanted to recognize and be in solidarity with Mr. Floyd’s family,” he said.
“I think this group stopped to kneel three times in different places in the street, and every time it just seemed like people in the neighborhood were very respectful of protesters taking up the space. And when they got up to the hill there was this cascade of people going up 96th Street. It was such an amazing perspective. When you’re at the front of a march you never really know how big a crowd is until you move around, and everyone had stopped, and I could see everyone down the hill and it was breathtaking.”
Lawrence Bryant was trailing a protest in St. Louis as demonstrators marched to the mayor’s house. Then they encountered Mark and Patricia McCloskey.
“The initial thing we heard was ‘Get out.’ I turned around and looked, and that’s when the wife came out toward the crowd. I was scared — I’m not going to lie. She looked really nervous. The husband was in the back with the AR. And I just didn’t know what their intentions were. My initial thought was to get behind something, so I tried to stay clear of the barrel of the gun. I was going back and forth and trying to stay out of her eyesight. Her finger was on the trigger. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know whether she was just going to go Rambo. I was just confused about why they were even out there.”
Joshua Rashaad McFadden had already photographed unrest in Minneapolis and a memorial service for George Floyd. He drove from Minneapolis to Atlanta, to pick up some things in storage, and the night he arrived there another Black man, Rayshard Brooks, was killed by a police officer.
Protests that already had been underway in Atlanta over Mr. Floyd’s death took on more urgency after Mr. Brooks was killed.
“Things just went to another level,” he said. “I really don’t have the words for it. It was heartbreaking.”
He photographed a Black police officer during a standoff in which protesters were shouting at officers. “You couldn’t tell if he was listening or not and what’s going on in his head,” he said about the image. “That’s what draws you in.”
“I’m a pretty morbid person, so when all of this was happening I was wondering, is Manhattan going to shut down? Maybe they’ll shut down the bridges,” said Dana Scruggs, a photographer who lives in Brooklyn and made self-portraits of her time in isolation.
“It was a very scary time and we didn’t know what was going on. I was pretty much preparing for the apocalypse. I got all these water-purification tablets in case the water went out; solar-powered batteries in case the infrastructure of America or New York just collapsed. A friend of mind had a walkie-talkie set and I got the same walkie-talkie set she had in case the phones went out. We had escape routes. I prepared for the worst.”
“I live by myself and I’m single and just the thought of dying alone in this apartment was very scary for me. That’s also why I ended up getting a dog. She probably would have eaten me. I just wanted somebody to spend time with and take care of. I guess when I was taking those photographs it was me making these vignettes of what my life was like.”
Brenda Kenneally went to Jackson, Miss., to photograph food insecurity in America during the pandemic.
“Lillian and her family were among the newly minted food insecure,” Ms. Kenneally said. “Her mom had come from a childhood of a lot of precarity and she was determined not to create that for her kids. She agreed to do the article because she wanted to let people know she had a well-paying job and was living the American dream and with the onset of Covid, all that disappeared.”
“At the time of the photo, she had not told her children where all the food was coming from,” Ms. Kenneally said.
Some of the food she received from pantries was more extravagant than what she would normally serve her family because donations had been pouring in from restaurants that had shuttered.
“Those were trickling down to food banks until it came to Clara’s birthday cake,” Ms. Kenneally said. “Normally, they would have gotten the traditional cake that you throw down 30 bucks for at the store, but they had this box cake and some food coloring and some ingenuity and they made this unicorn cake. They were kind of embarrassed by the cake in a certain way. It was this kind of class and food insecurity sting of shame and anxiety that still stayed with this young woman so much. The layers of shame that even when you’ve pulled yourself out you keep apologizing and laughing self-consciously about the cake. It was telling and deeply nuanced and not something you talk about usually when showing a food line. She thought it was important that people know it’s not some other folks who are suffering, it’s all of us.”
Tyler Hicks had been working in Manaus, a regional capital city in Brazil, to document the spread of the coronavirus across the Amazon.
He wound up traveling to Manacapuru, a small, remote area where the effects of the virus were even more apparent.
He donned protective gear and trailed health care workers from the hospital as they paid visits to sick patients. The team arrived at one building that housed several families. Mr. Hicks followed them down a long, poorly lit hallway.
“This man when I first saw him was in a hammock that was strung across the room,” Mr. Hicks said. “Part of this has to do with a lack of supplies and equipment but in this case they simply untied the hammock from both ends and carried this man in his own hammock out of his room down the hallway and outside to where the ambulance was waiting.
“It wasn’t very apparent when we were inside because it was so poorly lit, but as we got outside, that was the first time I really saw his face and how ill he looked,” Mr. Hicks said. “Once the light hit the pores of his skin and the wrinkles in his face, it was clear that he had been very ill and probably hadn’t been eating very well and was dehydrated. I just was able to take one or two frames as they were hoisting him along. Just moments later he was loaded into an ambulance and that was the last time I saw him.”
When he was a student at the University of Mississippi, Timothy Ivy first learned about Representative John Lewis. Mr. Ivy, who was studying journalism, was transfixed by Mr. Lewis’s civil rights struggles.
“So now, some 30-plus years later, I had of course grown this respect for him — respect and admiration. I always had wanted to capture a nice portrait of him when he was alive,” Mr. Ivy said, but he never had the chance.
In July, when he learned that the body of Mr. Lewis would be carried across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where five decades earlier he had been beaten while leading a march for voting rights that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, Mr. Ivy decided to photograph the event.
“My goal was to capture the wagon as it was coming over the crest of the bridge with this sign in the background to show his last crossing,” Mr. Ivy said. “I’m kneeling down low and before they started the procession, some people from the funeral home put a bunch of rose petals on the bridge, which was kind of eerie, to signify Bloody Sunday.”
The bridge crossing offered a moment of reflection after weeks of tumult over racial injustice in America, he said.
“Considering all that’s been going on this year and the past few years — and of course, if you speak to any Black person in America they’ll say it’s been going on our whole lives — this moment was a sense of pause to pay respect and pay honor to someone who symbolized the efforts. It was a passing of the guard for his history and activism. To me, it was also fascinating to see the crowd and how many people showed up far and wide to pay this last honor to him.”
“When you’re looking for these pictures, you’re looking for these moments, and these two lovers, they made it a point to string up some lights and make it a little bit of a homey experience. People were just trying to enjoy as much of the experience as possible. I really appreciated the ingenuity and how delicate the moment was.”
— Christopher Lee
Mason Trinca covered the racial injustice protests that roiled Portland, Ore., for weeks.
“Every day felt like folks were trying to ask for something they couldn’t attain ever,” he said. “They wanted the Feds to leave and it felt like there wasn’t going to be a compromise.”
To Mr. Trinca, the photograph captured a moment that was a recurring theme of every protest during that period: a stalemate.
“This was one of those nights we were seeing the Feds periodically coming out and clearing the park and federal buildings. You can see the tear gas fuming into the streets. It seems theatrical and it really was, but that was a moment when there was a pause and a standoff between several protesters in the street and the Feds. It was this moment where both sides knew this was a stalemate. You would see time and again these moments like that where both sides were like, ‘Now what?’”
Hussein Malla was at home in Beirut filing photos from a recent trip to Syria when a loud explosion rocked his apartment.
“The ground underneath me started shaking,” he said. “My family started screaming and we ran to each other and held each other. I thought it was an earthquake. I thought it was an airstrike.”
Mr. Malla went outside to investigate and realized the blast had come from the seaport, about three miles from his home. He headed there immediately and spent the day photographing the horrific scene. It was only when he returned home just before midnight and turned on the local television news that he realized the blast had caused such widespread destruction throughout the entire city.
He woke up before sunrise the next day and took his drone for a better view of the seaport and skyline of the city. “I didn’t believe what I was looking at on the screen,” he said. “From the air you could see everything. All the damage.”
Diego Ibarra Sánchez, who lives in Beirut, Lebanon, had just left the city to vacation in Spain when a blast at the seaport shook his home city. He immediately flew home and began taking pictures as he wandered amid the destruction.
Many photographers headed to wealthy neighborhoods to document the damage but at about 5:30 one morning Mr. Sánchez went to a working-class neighborhood that is home to many immigrants. He came across a man whose apartment had been destroyed in the explosion. He was left to sleep outside.
“He lost everything,” Mr. Sánchez said. “His whole house that he was renting was not only completely destroyed but all his furniture and everything was gone.”
Mr. Sánchez has stayed in touch with the man, Mohamed, who has six children. The family is now crammed into a small, one-room apartment. The owner of the apartment building where he had been living received financial help from the government, but tenants like Mohamed weren’t so lucky.
“I chased fires up and down California for weeks then finally came to this fire. There was a stream running behind the neighborhood so I had this clear shot of an actual neighborhood with fire coming down the hills.”
— Meridith Kohut
Flo Ngala always tries to make the subjects of her photographs feel at ease. But she felt a special emotional connection with a Black woman who had been pregnant with twins, and had lost one of them after she experienced pain but was unable to get an appointment to see a doctor.
Statistics show that women of color are more likely to face undesirable outcomes in their pregnancies for reasons that public health experts are trying to understand.
“It was very personally and culturally relevant,” she said. “Me being a Black woman, photographing a Black woman, it’s almost like we jumped into it like we knew each other. I showed up to what would normally be a 20-minute portrait, but I ended up hanging out for about an hour. This is not just about a newspaper, this is your life and your unborn child.
“Her best friend was there and we all just started talking and it was crazy to see how emotional I got,” she said.
“I cried when I was photographing. The stories were just heartbreaking.”
Sara Krulwich, a theater photographer, had 36 photo assignments lined up for the spring canceled on a single day, March 13, as fears about the coronavirus mounted in New York.
“Spring is a really, really busy time when an enormous amount of theater happens and new shows open right before the Tony Awards deadline,” she said. “Usually I would work seven plays and maybe some opera every week. For me to just suddenly have it all disappear was crazy.”
She had a single job, a portrait assignment, until Aug. 1, when she was assigned to photograph one of the first dance performances held in New York since the start of the outbreak. It was upstate, on an outdoor stage.
She had to download an app that guided her through health questions to make sure she was not showing Covid symptoms, something that is now routine for many institutions but was new back then.
“It was all new for everybody,” she said. “It was a beautiful day and a gorgeous space, and we were all almost weeping at the end for the sheer relief that people could perform again.”
Damon Winter had to change his plans when the national political conventions became largely remote events.
Mr. Winter decided that since he wasn’t going to be photographing a crowded auditorium of giddy delegates, he would project livestreamed images from the conventions into people’s homes. “I love this idea of the conventions coming into their bedroom or living room. Wherever people consume news.”
Noah Berger slept in his car while covering protests for racial justice in Portland, Ore., because a car seemed safer than a hotel when it came to the coronavirus. He left the marches to immediately drive four or five hours south, to the wildfires raging in California.
He was working outside Fresno for two days, and at one point became trapped when the only road out of the area was engulfed in flames. He and a colleague were watching the footage of fires elsewhere on a webcam, astonished at the images coming across even in a grainy, low-quality format. He drove to the site.
The fires were among the deadliest on record, consuming millions of acres. He started taking photos from various vantage points at 11:30 p.m., and then came across the Bidwell Bar Bridge set against a blazing orange backdrop.
“It was this whole impressive scene with the hillside glowing. I couldn’t find a piece that goes on my tripod, so I rested the camera on the hood of a car. I used a consumer device meant to hold an iPad. Then I used a post that was part of guardrail. I shot about 23 frames and almost all of them are blurred or something is in the way. Luckily I did have this one frame that was sharp and didn’t have grass sticking up in the middle.”
He checked the time when he was finished photographing. He had worked 32 hours straight.
Emilio Morenatti photographed medical workers at a Barcelona hospital who were trying to understand whether trips to the seaside would help patients recovering from traumatic intensive care.
“They would put them outside the hospital when they were in a good enough condition to try to offer them their first contact with the outside air and the sun and use the ambience of the sea to try to normalize their life,” Mr. Morenatti said.
The subject of the photo, Francisco España, had spent 52 days in an intensive care unit trying to recover from Covid-19. He was allowed to spend 10 minutes on the promenade overlooking the sea, just across the street from the hospital.
It was not that long after Spain had been locked down to stop the spread of the virus, and passers-by along the promenade kept a wide berth from the patient in a hospital bed who appeared on the sidewalk.
“He told me he thought he was going to die, and when he spent this time in front of the sea he realized he was alive,” Mr. Morenatti said. “When he came back, he felt full of energy.”
John Moore spent time in September and October photographing Covid-related evictions in Arizona in Maricopa County, one of the largest counties in the country.
The state had enacted a moratorium on evictions to protect the vulnerable, and a nationwide moratorium had also been put in place, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yet an alarming number of people were still finding themselves forced from their homes.
“There are many people on the lower end of the economic spectrum who do not know about the C.D.C. guidelines and state protections they should have,” Mr. Moore said. “It sounds strange to say, but many low-income people who have been affected by this pandemic have lives that are in utter chaos right now, whether it’s physical effects on family members or the economic situation they find themselves in. Even though all one needs to do is download a form from the C.D.C. website and give it to their landlord, many people don’t know to do that. They don’t show up to court dates because their lives are in chaos. This is happening all over the United States. If the C.D.C. moratorium on evictions lapses at the end of this year without additional solutions, we can expect a nationwide tidal wave of evictions in early 2021. The pandemic economy has put many renters, and in some cases landlords, in an extremely precarious situation.”
Erin Schaff photographed Amy Coney Barrett’s first meeting with senators on Capitol Hill not long after the White House announcement of Ms. Barrett’s nomination, which wound up being a Covid super-spreader event.
Ms. Schaff had also photographed an intensive care unit for Covid patients. In some ways, the hospital felt safer than Capitol Hill.
“In a Covid ward, everyone is wearing face masks, sanitizing and taking the virus seriously. It’s not political, it’s their lives. These folks are the ones holding the iPad as families try to communicate with loved ones on ventilators. There are specific protocols for how to protect yourself when you enter the room of a patient with Covid-19, and then when you leave and disinfect yourself you can go outside, eat food and generally be safe,” she said. “There’s no clean area in politics.”
Before the pandemic, Ms. Schaff was accustomed to jostling among photographers and crowds as she went about her work on Capitol Hill. With Covid, she was often one of just two pool photographers shooting events.
“I look back at photos from the beginning of the year with impeachment, when we were all in these big crowds or around politicians, and any time I look back at a photo with so many people close together I kind of cringe. It’ll take a long time for that to go away.”
Max Whittaker arrived in Plumas National Forest in California on Sept. 9, the day after high winds fanned the smoldering North Complex fire as it raged through the area.
“I found this apocalyptic scene of molten-orange sky and dark clouds of smoke over Lake Oroville,” he said. “I’d already been documenting California’s record-shattering wildfire season for weeks, and this vista seemed to provide a vision of the state’s future.”
Wildfires fueled by climate change threaten not only the forests and the homes of those directly affected, but also the smoke-choked communities hundreds of miles away.
Mr. Whittaker continued driving around the lake before finding the small town of Berry Creek reduced to ashes. Fifteen of its residents had been killed.
“I was stunned to see the town completely annihilated,” he said. “Its only store, school and even firehouse with engines inside were burned completely. At one residence, dogs limped up to me on burned paws. I gave them all my water.”
“Even though it was a Covid situation it was one of the best fashion show experiences I’ve had. The intimacy and the relaxed nature of it — you kind of got the feeling that Christian knew most of the people there or had a connection to them, so there wasn’t this facade or air or any one person or group of people being above each other.”
— Simbarashe Cha
Anna Moneymaker landed the assignment to photograph Mr. Trump returning to the White House after being hospitalized for Covid-19 because another photographer had been exposed to the virus and was quarantining.
“We were taken out to the South Lawn and it was just like a normal Marine One landing, but this one was different because he was just coming back from the hospital. Usually the president goes into the Diplomatic Reception Room, but this time they said he was going to walk up to the Truman Balcony and wave to Marine One.”
Photographers are generally penned in on the side of a driveway for Marine One landings, but the Secret Service this time allowed Ms. Moneymaker and others to get a bit closer.
“Things just started happening. It was a scramble. I wanted to frame him well so he lined up with the columns and the door behind him. I lifted my camera up. There’s a helicopter blaring behind us and he had a mask on, and the agents were kind of pushing us and saying it’s not safe to be this close to the helicopter, and he took the mask off. It was surreal.”
Damon Winter had been hoping to photograph a portrait of Joseph R. Biden Jr. for months.
Finally, the opportunity arose in April in Gettysburg after Mr. Biden made a speech focusing on national reconciliation. Mr. Winter, who shoots for the New York Times Opinion section, wanted a formal portrait yet one that would signify that these were different times, so he chose an outdoor setting.
“I found this little area next to a lake and was hoping he would come down and do this. I had read our New York Times endorsement of him and was thinking of the tranquility and hopefully calm that a Biden presidency would represent. There were all these competing notions in my head.”
“There was this phalanx of riot police six deep backed up by water cannon trucks, and some of the older, maybe hard-line, faction had gone up to try and stop the advance of the riot police and built temporary barricades out of anything they could find on the street. And there was this standoff. Then the police fired a burst of water.”
— Adam Dean
“It was interesting seeing this rally with everybody in their cars or standing in small groups with masks on. We were waiting for Obama to come out, and he finally comes out and the crowd goes crazy to see him and it felt like we were taken back to a moment in time that was pre-Covid and back to his presidency.”
— Kriston Jae Bethel
Nearly 160 million people weighed in on Biden vs. Trump
Voting in a Pandemic
The 2020 election featured a number of milestones: Kamala Harris became the first woman, first Black person and first person of South Asian descent to win the vice presidency. The Democratic National Convention held its first virtual convention, with video grids of people clapping along from home. And a record number of ballots were cast: nearly 160 million, with both parties getting more votes than in 2016 in nearly every county.
Some people got to the polls on horseback: Sharon Chischilly photographed members of the Navajo Nation riding to vote in Arizona. In Brooklyn, Andrew Seng captured people voting in a grand renovated theater. And many people around the country mailed in their ballots ahead of time because of fears around the virus.
On election night in the battleground state of Michigan, Philip Montgomery watched as election workers tallied votes.
“I didn’t realize how grass roots and analog it was,” he said. “The conversation around this election was how fragile the system is, but also how strong it is. The men and women in that room had been there very early. It was a thriving ecosystem among this organized chaos. It was such a small room and really the hands-on democracy was incredible to see.”
“I just noticed this one dark corner of the theater and initially was drawn to the aesthetic of it. But it began to symbolize other things to me. I was thinking the election would serve as a beacon of light and hope and perceived change, but I saw a flip side as well.”
— Andrew Seng
Sharon Chischilly photographed members of the Navajo nation on Election Day, riding by horseback to vote. She trailed them on their more than an hourlong ride to the polls, hopping out of the car to photograph them at various points.
“They wanted to keep their tradition alive. I was pretty aware of this as a member of the Navajo Nation myself. It seemed like everybody knew each other, and you could see this energy of how excited they were. People were driving by in their cars and honking their horns when they passed them. I think it did really inspire a lot of Navajo people to go out and vote.”
Gabriella Angotti-Jones spent Election Day in Southern California, looking for unique images of the American act of voting in a year that was anything but ordinary.
She arrived a few minutes late at a sorting center where mail-in ballots were being counted and joined a tour of the facility. A few boxes of ballots caught her eye.
“There was this random glass door in a completely ugly room with a fluorescent light that allowed a beautiful stream of light to come through,” Ms. Angotti-Jones said. “Then the shaft of light left, and it was gone and I thought, Oh, if I wasn’t late I wouldn’t have got this picture.”
“Moscow authorities are mostly reluctant to give any access to foreign media, but at this moment it is important for public relations because they are basically the first ones to do this. Only 60 percent of people here support this idea of mass vaccination and trust the vaccine. Authorities are trying to overcome this reluctancy.”
— Sergey Ponomarev
Ilvy Njiokiktjien went to the south of the Netherlands to photograph new coronavirus testing sites that opened to process tens of thousands of tests a day.
The city of Eindhoven, where revelers gathered in February to celebrate Carnival, had one of the country’s worst outbreaks.
“The Netherlands was very much behind in testing,” she said. “They’ve now scaled up the testing capacity, and this was the first day when it opened up, and it was quite calm.”
“I am a mother with two kids, and just looking at their experience and thinking about connection and what it means for these little people, I started asking around to people, ‘Where’s Santa?’ I found him, and he had this glass plate and a visor so he didn’t have to have a mask on, and I just thought this was so telling of this time. These little girls were 3 years old. Almost a third of their life has been in the pandemic. And see how smiley they look, how normal it is, and it’s Santa in a box.”
— Ash Adams