A Year Like No Other
Text and Photos Courtesy of The New York Times

Above: To contain the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government sealed off Wuhan and banned most public transportation and private cars from its streets. Wuhan, China, February 3.

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,” says Dean Baquet, The Times’ executive editor. “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.”

Above: Cenate Sotto, Italy, March 15 Claudio Travelli, 61, a coronavirus patient, being examined at his home. Cenate Sotto, Italy, March 15.  Photo by Fabio Bucciarelli.

The photographs in this collection capture those historic 12 months. Jeffrey Henson Scales of The New York Times, 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.”

Above: Circles painted on the grass at Domino Park in Williamsburg helped people spend time outdoors while staying socially distanced from others. Brooklyn, N.Y., May 15. Photo by Hilary Swift.

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.

Above, left: President Trump returning from a re-election campaign rally in New Hampshire. Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, August 28. Photo by Doug Mills. Right: Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala Harris gave their first addresses to the nation as president-elect and vice president-elect. Wilmington, Delaware, August November 7. Photo by Erin Schaff.

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.

Above, left: A wildfire burned more than 4,200 acres during the most active wildfire year on record for the West Coast. Azusa, California, August 13. Photo by Meridith Kohut. Right: New York City painted a Black Lives Matter mural on Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower. New York, July 9. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

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.

Above: A doctor comforts a Covid-19 patient in an intensive care unit. Houston, November 26. Photo by Go Nakamura.

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.


You can find the full Year in Pictures here.