BY TIME STAFF
It was a long year made to feel longer by the shadows that lay across it, one atop the next, and experienced as a miasma visible as atmosphere in so many of the photographs that define it: The half-light of a temporary morgue. Of a city street obscured by tear gas. Of a wildfire’s traveling dusk.
The news photos that captured 2020 — shown here in TIME’s annual unranked selection of 100 — almost need no time stamp, so distinctive was its look. Here was a year with the palette of an Arctic winter, variations on a darkness that just goes on and on, time suspended first by lockdowns that threw life out of routine, then by the understanding that nothing would be the same after.
No one looking through these images a few years hence will have to ask, when they come to the tableau of a body and people in hazmat on a China street, when that photo was taken. Or what summer two groups of men — one in police uniforms — grabbed the limbs of a young Black protester, surrounded by people in masks. The exception might be the hellscapes created by bushfires, especially the sad, singed animals of Australia. Unless, that is, 2020 is remembered, on top of everything else, as the year the slow burn of climate change officially tipped into conflagration.
What colors the year did produce tended toward the garish hues of America’s political polarization, especially so in images from campaign rallies. But not always.
Here is a pretty street in the Caucasus Mountains. A boulevard, really. The eye is drawn to leaves going gold in the autumn light and to plastic tape the color of peppermint, stretched to form a cordon around something in the road. It is a missile, launched from the enemy side in a war over a patch of disputed territory, and buried right up to its tail fins in the pavement of a residential street, where, in the year 2020, it stands as a symbol of hope. It didn’t explode. — Karl Vick
Warning: Some of the following images are graphic in nature and might be disturbing to some viewers.A fire-response volunteer pours water on a koala injured in a bushfire on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, on Jan. 16. It was quickly hustled to a nearby shelter, joining hundreds of other animals receiving care. Adam Ferguson for TIMEA protester, wearing a shirt that reads «Please Stop the Violence,» is dragged near Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on May 29, four days after George Floyd’s killing. Malike Sidibe for TIMEThe night sky glows red from the Holser Fire in Piru, Calif., on Aug. 17, as a water-dropping helicopter works to slow the spread of flames. Robert Gauthier—Los Angeles Times/ShutterstockA view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch, as seen from the UCF Knights’ stadium in Orlando on Nov. 15. Conor Kvatek—Collegiate Images/Getty ImagesHoda Kinno, 11, is evacuated by her uncle Mustafa shortly after a massive explosion at the port in Beirut on Aug. 4. The Kinno family, from Syria’s Aleppo region, was devastated by the blast. Hoda suffered a broken neck and other injuries, the Associated Press reported, and her 15-year-old sister, Sedra, was killed. Hassan Ammar—APDr. Joseph Varon comforts a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on Nov. 26. Go Nakamura—Getty ImagesPresident Trump, left, and Judge Amy Coney Barrett, his Supreme Court nominee, right, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, prior to the announcement in the Rose Garden. On Oct. 2, Trump revealed that he and the First Lady, Melania Trump, also shown here, had tested positive for coronavirus. Doug Mills—The New York Times/ReduxFive luxury cruise ships are seen while being broken down for scrap metal at the Aliaga ship recycling port in Izmir, Turkey, on Oct. 2. As the global pandemic slowed the multi-billion dollar cruise industry, and with public confidence in cruise vacations down after a series of outbreaks, some operators have been forced to cut losses and retire ships earlier than planned. The crisis, however, has bolstered the year’s intake of ships at this port. Chris McGrath—Getty ImagesFire damage is seen inside a Dollar Tree in Minneapolis on May 28, following nights of protests and vandalism in response to the police killing of George Floyd three days earlier. Brooklynn Kascel—PolarisOn May 31, a demonstrator in New York spray-paints a poster of Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. “Out of nowhere, this guy pulled out a purple spray can and just started writing on it,» the photographer recalled. «These ladies were walking by and paused to look at it. They were looking at it, like, ‘Is this to attack us or to stop us from being silent?’” Malike Sidibe for TIMEA monument that was installed at a Minneapolis memorial site for George Floyd is seen during a storm on Aug. 14. Brandon BellAn aerial view from a drone shows workers removing a statue of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., on July 7. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA-EFE/ShutterstockMerlin Coles, 3, watches horse racing at Royal Ascot from his home in Bere Regis, England, on June 17. The boy is sitting on his horse, Mr. Glitter Sparkles, with his dog, Mistress, as racing resumed behind closed doors. Paul Childs—ReutersA health care worker checks a woman’s temperature and oxygen saturation in the Dhole Patil slum of Pune, India, on Aug. 10. Atul Loke for TIMEThe Atlantic Ocean surges its way into a rental beach house in Avon, N.C., on Sept. 22. Hurricane Teddy was spinning just off the coast, causing higher than normal tides and tidal surges that were inundating low-lying homes and rental properties. Daniel PullenA COVID-19 patient is prepared for intubation by the anesthesiologist at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J., on March 31. The plastic tent is so the virus isn’t spread while transporting the patient between units. Danny Kim for TIMEDetained left-wing activist Reina Mae Nasino, in handcuffs and wearing a protective suit to prevent the spread of coronavirus, touches the coffin of her three-month-old daughter, River, during funeral rites guarded by armed escorts at Manila North Cemetery on Oct. 16. The 23-year-old was among three activists arrested last year in a Philippine left-wing group’s office, the Associated Press reported, and charged with the illegal possession of explosives and firearms; their lawyers alleged that the weapons were placed by police, which denied the accusation. A court allowed Nasino three hours to attend the burial of her baby, who died of acute gastroenteritis, the AP added, but critics decried her treatment. Aaron Favila—APPro-democracy activists flash three-fingered salutes during a demonstration at the Kaset Intersection, near Bangkok, on Oct. 19. A growing tide of protests called for the prime minister to resign. Sakchai Lalit—APAn eerie emptiness enveloped the area surrounding the Kaaba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, on March 6, as attendance at Friday prayers was hit by measures to protect against COVID-19. Bandar al-Dandani—AFP/Getty ImagesRally attendees wait for President Trump to arrive at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20. It was Trump’s first campaign rally in months since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos for TIMEIn Minneapolis on June 5, mourners embrace in front of mock headstones at a makeshift memorial in tribute to people killed by the police. Joshua Rashaad McFadden—The New York Times/ReduxThe Los Angeles Lakers honor Kobe Bryant and daughter Gigi—two of nine people who died in a helicopter crash—by spotlighting two empty court-side seats at the Staples Center on Jan. 31. Harry How—Getty ImagesAt Juneteenth celebrations in Tulsa’s Greenwood district, the site of one of American history’s worst-ever episodes of racial violence, Deshon and Omarion wear T-shirts depicting their grandmother Leslie Randle—who was alive during the 1921 massacre, when hundreds of Black-owned homes and businesses in the area were burned and more than 300 Black people were killed. «She told us that the bodies were taken away and stacked on a hill up by [Oklahoma State University],» says Deshon. «Every time we heard the stories it made us upset. But she made us listen.» Ruddy Roye for TIMEAt a mosque in Tehran, on Jan. 5, Iranian women mourn Qasem Soleimani’s death. Newsha Tavakolian—Magnum Photos for TIMEA drained indoor pool was converted into a dining area at Moscow’s Hospital No. 15. Nanna Heitmann—Magnum PhotosWomen who fled the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region pray during Sunday Mass at a church near Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, on Nov. 29. Nariman El-Mofty—APDiscolored obituary portraits at the printing plant of L’Eco di Bergamo in Erbusco in April; the newspaper dedicated more pages to accommodate the COVID-19 death toll. Lorenzo Meloni—Magnum Photos for TIMEA coronavirus patient uses a balloon to strengthen her lungs as she recovers at a makeshift hospital in Mexico City on June 30. Meghan Dhaliwal—The New York Times/ReduxThe body of a patient, wrapped in yellow infectious waste plastic bags and plastic wrappers, lie on the patient’s deathbed awaiting a body bag in an Indonesian hospital. The wrapping of the patient, which takes two nurses approximately an hour to complete, was intended to suppress the spread of coronavirus. Joshua IrwandiA deserted walkway in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square in March, as Italy was the European epicenter of the pandemic. Lorenzo Meloni—Magnum Photos for TIMEOfficials in protective suits near an elderly man who collapsed and died near a hospital in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 30. Hector Retamal—AFP/Getty ImagesBoris Johnson, prime minister of the United Kingdom, and French President Emmanuel Macron stand socially distanced while posing for photographs at 10 Downing Street in London on June 18. Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty ImagesDuring a Black Lives Matter demonstration in London on June 13, protester Patrick Hutchinson carries an injured counter-protester to safety near Waterloo Station. Dylan Martinez—ReutersDemonstrators embrace each other after hearing the grand jury verdict, indicting one of three officers involved in the March killing of Breonna Taylor inside her apartment with «wanton endangerment,» in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 23. Brandon Bell—Getty ImagesMaricopa County Constable Darlene Martinez escorts a family out of their apartment after serving an eviction order for non-payment in Phoenix, Ariz., on Sept. 30. Thousands of court-ordered evictions continued nationwide despite a CDC moratorium for renters impacted by the pandemic. John Moore—Getty ImagesPeople sleep in a parking lot in Las Vegas on March 30 after a night shelter temporarily shut down because of COVID-19. Tod Seelie—The GuardianTwo children pass members of a Taliban Red Unit, an elite force, in the Alingar District of Afghanistan’s Laghman Province on March 13. Jim Huylebroek—The New York Times/ReduxMoving the gear into the hall between the new units reduced PPE use from 20 or 30 per shift to five or six, the photographer said, at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J. (A small portion of this photograph is obscured to preserve the confidentiality of a patient’s identity.) Danny Kim for TIMEA health worker checks an elderly woman’s oxygen level after receiving a call about a suspected COVID-19 case in the northern Italian province of Bergamo. Lorenzo Meloni—Magnum Photos for TIMEGovernment funeral workers cover the body of Arlen Laranjeira Bezerra, 39, near the Delphina Rinaldi Abdel Aziz Hospital in Manaus, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, on May 5. Bezerra had been admitted to the hospital to undergo treatment for COVID-19. After escaping from the hospital at dawn, his body was found by family members approximately 650 feet (200 meters) away. Edmar Barros—APTalona Hogan, a close family friend, right, accepts an embrace as she copes with the death of Calvin Munerlyn during his visitation service in Flint, Mich., on May 8. Munerlyn, 43, was shot at the Family Dollar store following an alleged verbal altercation with a woman after telling her daughter she needed to wear a mask while inside. Jake May—The Flint Journal/MLive.com/APA man holding a child walks by a man with a rake, gun and tiki torch at the Maricopa County election office in Phoenix, Ariz., on Nov. 5. Sinna Nasseri for TIMEPresident Trump stages a theatrical return to the White House on Oct. 5 after a days-long hospitalization for COVID-19. Anna Moneymaker—The New York Times/ReduxKyle Edwards, 39, collects lanterns from inside a temporary morgue outside the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center on April 22. Edwards, whose job sometimes involved moving bodies of COVID-19 victims to the morgue, worked 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. shifts during the worst of the pandemic and, like many members of his team, contracted the virus. His family asked him to take time off until the virus died down, but Edwards kept working. He and his wife trained their 5-year-old son to not hug him immediately when he gets home: “Daddy has to wash the coronavirus off him when he gets home from the hospital,” the boy will tell others. Meridith Kohut for TIMEMarsha Williams, left, patient-care coordinator at Wyckoff’s women’s health center, wipes away tears and holds the hand of co-worker Erica Davis during union delegate Jacqueline Venner’s funeral. (Because of social-distancing restrictions, capacity was limited to 10 people.) Williams, whom Venner helped navigate her job, said she respected her like «a big sister.» Meridith Kohut for TIMEA protester wipes a tear from the face of a fellow marcher as they demonstrate against police brutality in Minneapolis on May 29. Victor J. Blue—The New York Times/ReduxFormer Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris are applauded by their spouses, Jill Biden and Douglas Emhoff, shortly after Biden accepted his party’s presidential nomination during the Democratic National Convention in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 20. Erin Schaff—The New York Times/ReduxJeremiah Harrell, 5, looks up to the flag-draped coffin of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on July 28. Michael A. McCoy—The New York Times/ReduxJacquelyn Booth lays on the ground outside the Supreme Court on Sept. 26, mourning the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as conservative women who support Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to replace Ginsburg pray at its doors. One month later, Barrett was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-to-48 vote. Erin Schaff—The New York Times/ReduxFamily and friends of Secoriea Turner, an eight-year-old who was fatally shot while in a car with her mother near the site where Rayshard Brooks was killed by a police officer weeks earlier, leading to protests against police brutality, present floral arrangements during her home-going service at New Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta on July 15. Alyssa Pointer—Atlanta Journal-Constitution/APAfter pushing their wedding date back a few times due to pandemic concerns, Judi and Eric finally decided to move forward with an intimate wedding in front of their home in Santa Clarita, Calif., in May. Judi’s main concern was that her elderly father, who is undergoing treatment, might not make it to their new date in 2021 and it was extremely important to her that he was there to walk her down the aisle. Everything fell into place perfectly, the photographer recalled. Their wedding officiant, who lived across the street, and a few neighbors and close friends joined for the small ceremony in their driveway. Maggie ShannonNour Saliba stands in her apartment in the Mar Mikhael area of Beirut on Aug. 6, two days after the deadly explosion at the city’s port, seen through her blown-out window. “Honestly, I had it easy. I only lost my home. I am one of the lucky ones who still have their family and friends by their side,” says the 27-year-old community manager and model. “Trauma is written all over the fumes of this explosion. Yes, we are all traumatized, but we are also burnt out.» Myriam Boulos for TIMEFormer Vice President Joe Biden on the campaign trail in Osage, Iowa, on Jan. 22. September Dawn Bottoms for TIMELori Spencer talks on the phone with her 81-year-old mother Judie Shape at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., on March 8. Shape tested positive for coronavirus that morning. David Ryder—ReutersMatthew Fish of Holy Family Catholic Church in Hillcrest Heights, Md., waits for parishioners at his drive-through confessional on March 20. As the coronavirus disrupts lives around the world, Fish is among those who have sought ways to meet the needs of observant community members, even as their houses of faith remain closed. “The important thing is to not just keep that 6-ft. distance but to give people the option of anonymity and to preserve confidentiality,” Fish told Washingtonian of his setup in the parking lot next to the rectory. “I got some clamps, found an old curtain, and duct-taped and clamped it together … We advertise it at our usual Confession time.” Evy Mages—WashingtonianBrazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures to journalists during a press conference from a ramp of the Palácio do Planalto in Brasilia on May 12. Joédson Alves—EPA-EFE/ShutterstockA person holds flowers as demonstrators clash with police near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct shortly after midnight on June 8. Earlier in the evening, a suspect drove into the crowd of protesters and shot one person, which happened after a day of peaceful protests across the city. Later, police and protesters clashed violently. David Ryder—Getty ImagesA man runs through the fountain in Washington Square Park in New York City on Nov. 7, after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Malike Sidibe for TIMEA missile that landed on a street is surrounded by barricade tape in Shushi, Nagorno-Karabakh, on Oct. 16. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan reignited in late September, quickly escalating from the frontlines to populated towns and villages. Anush Babajanyan—VII/ReduxA woman plays music from her balcony in Milan on March 13. Italians remained essentially under house arrest as the nation—the European front in the global fight against coronavirus—had ordered extraordinary restrictions on their movement to prevent its spread. Alessandro Grassani—The New York Times/ReduxRelatives accompany the coffin of Jose Barbaran, who was believed to have died from coronavirus complications, as they travel by boat on Peru’s Ucayali River on Sept. 29. Despite the risk, family members decided to travel by night to Barbaran’s hometown of Palestina, a four-hour journey. Rodrigo Abd—APA woman outraged by the killing of George Floyd speaks to a crowd and blocks a police officer’s vehicle with a group of protesters in Minneapolis on May 27. Patience ZalangaDr. Sherry Melton, center, moves a gurney after transferring a COVID patient from the emergency department to the intensive care unit at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx on April 3, when New York was the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic. Philip MontgomeryOlivia Grant, right, hugs her grandmother, Mary Grace Sileo, through a plastic drop cloth hung up on a clothesline in a backyard in Wantagh, N.Y., on May 24. Al Bello—Getty ImagesDead trees near the Taal volcano’s crater are covered in volcanic ash on Jan. 14. Ezra Acayan—Getty ImagesA man desperately tries to protect himself in Edirne, Turkey, from tear gas launched by Greek authorities at the border in March. Emin Ozmen—Magnum Photos for TIMEA man sprays mace as another man fatally fires a gun in Denver on Oct. 10. The man on the left was supporting the «Patriot Rally» and sprayed mace at the man on the right, who then shot and killed the protester. Helen H. Richardson—The Denver Post/APA coat of a biohazard disinfectant is sprayed on all surfaces at the New York Stock Exchange, as part of a new deep-clean regimen, on March 14. As other workplaces went online-only, traders continued to jostle and the building started to be regularly sanitized. Victor Llorente—The New York Times/ReduxA long-haired Lhasa Apso is wheeled down the runway to the gate of stardom at the Westminster Dog Show in New York City on Feb. 10. Evan Angelastro for TIMEKelen Walker packs students’ locker contents into black trash bags as they clean and sanitize the school while students take online classes from home at Canterbury School in Greensboro, N.C., on March 17. Khadejeh Nikouyeh—News & Record/APFrancisco Espana, 60, is surrounded by members of his medical team on a promenade next to the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona on Sept. 4. Emilio Morenatti—APThe family and friends of Jefrey Scott Cameron, who died of an accidental overdose earlier this year, at his burial in Barre, Vt., on July 18. By this time, more than 40 states had seen increases in overdoses since the onset of the pandemic in the U.S. Hilary Swift—The New York Times/ReduxA protester holds a Nigerian flag at an #EndSars demonstration in Abuja on Oct. 17. «The atmosphere during the protests were highly liberating and gave me hope,» the photographer recalled. «I had never imagined that Nigerians will be able to see past religion, ethnicity and social class and come together to march for a common cause.» Etinosa YvonneFuad Izmayilov’s sister kisses his hand shortly after he was killed in a rocket attack launched by Armenian forces on the city of Barda, Azerbaijan, on Oct. 28. Ivor Prickett—The New York Times/ReduxPresident Trump holds a Bible in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., on June 1. «Trump’s moment—for him to look in control of the two-block radius around his home and to stand with a Bible in front of a church—came at a huge cost,» wrote Brian Bennett, «using the full force of the federal government to quash a peaceful protest and raising echoes of martial law.» Doug Mills—The New York Times/ReduxA burned Christmas Tree farm near Gates, Ore., in September. More than 5 million acres have burned in California, Oregon and Washington. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum PhotosA resident puts down a cow that was severely wounded after a bushfire ravaged a paddock in Coolagolite, New South Wales, Australia, on Jan. 1. Sean Davey—EPA-EFE/ShutterstockDark orange skies hang over the San Francisco skyline, as seen from Treasure Island, on Sept. 9, due to multiple wildfires burning across California and Oregon. Jessica Christian—The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty ImagesA military flyover in a salute to frontline workers above New York City on April 28. Dina Litovsky—ReduxAn aerial view from a drone shows railcars that derailed as Hurricane Laura passed through the area in Lake Charles, La., on Aug. 29. Joe Raedle—Getty ImagesChildren line up for school at Wesley Elementary in Middletown, Conn., on July 20. Gillian Laub for TIMENaomi Osaka of Japan takes part in an Australian Open practice session in Melbourne on Jan. 18. Michael Dodge—EPA-EFE/ShutterstockActivists resist an attempt by police to detain them while gathering to support opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who had been reportedly detained by state security agents, in Minsk on Sept. 8. Yauhen Yerchak—EPA-EFE/ShutterstockPolice officers and emergency workers near a man associated with a right-wing group who was fatally shot at a protest in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 29. Mason Trinca—The New York Times/ReduxDr. Laura Mulvey, who practices emergency medicine, in her isolation unit in the ICU at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn on March 26. «It’s not easy being a patient,» Mulvey said, «especially in your own hospital.» Nearby, the ICU team holds a meeting. Benjamin Norman for TIMEShowgirls wearing protective masks are seen inside Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino Resort on July 2. Michelle Gustafson—The New York Times/ReduxSupporters at Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s rally in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 11. Buttigieg finished second in the state’s primary, behind Bernie Sanders. M. Scott Brauer for TIMEAs Vice President Mike Pence applauds, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rips up her copy of President Trump’s State of the Union address following his speech at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 4. Erin Schaff—The New York Times/ReduxReporters watch the Senate impeachment vote in the press gallery at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5. Gabriella Demczuk for TIMESupporters of President Trump wave at a pickup truck dragging a sign supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris outside of the Clark County Elections Department in North Las Vegas on Nov. 7. Wong Maye-E—APAbout 100 protesters assembled outside the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on April 13 during Gov. Mike DeWine’s weekday update on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, upset that the state remains under a Stay-At-Home order and that non-essential businesses were still closed. Joshua A. Bickel—The Columbus Dispatch/APPatricia and Mark McCloskey draw their firearms on protesters—one of whom, at right, holds a video camera and microphone—as they enter their neighborhood during a protest against St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson on June 28. Lawrence Bryant—ReutersPolice clash with protesters in Hong Kong on July 1, one day after a new national security law went into effect. The city immediately felt the chilling effect of Beijing’s offensive to quash dissent in the semiautonomous territory. Lam Yik Fei—The New York Times/ReduxHarvey Weinstein and his legal team arrive at a Manhattan courthouse during his trial on Feb. 18. Weinstein was found guilty of rape and sexual assault but acquitted of more serious charges. Caitlin Ochs—ReutersShadows of refugees and migrants carrying their belongings are seen as they flee from a fire at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on Sept. 9. Elias Marcou—ReutersPassengers on a flight from Detroit watch the final presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden on Oct. 22. Salwan Georges—The Washington Post/Getty ImagesPeople watch the debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris outside a tavern in San Diego on Oct. 7. Mike Blake—ReutersPresident Trump during remarks in the East Room of the White House early on the morning of Nov. 4. «We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court,» Trump said. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos for TIMEA high-rise in Tianjin, China, where the police have been too overstretched during the coronavirus outbreak to handle domestic violence calls, on Feb. 14. Yuyang Liu—The New York Times/Redux