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Whatta year! Wooooo boy. Phew. Is it over yet?

Here in the (very small, one-person) Mother Jones photo department, we naturally tend to think visually. As such, we rounded up a few dozen photos that stuck with us over the course of the year.

Some events, like the January 6 Capitol riot and the California wildfires, are inherently visual and could easily fill an entire “Best Photos” post. Conversely, some incredibly important moments over the past year, like the Texas abortion law or the insanity that has erupted in school board meetings, just aren’t quite as visual. So with that said, what follows isn’t as much a selection of the best photos made over the year, but a selection of striking, if not surreal visual moments from 2021—from across politics, climate chaos, migration, racial justice, COVID, and more—made by a few of the many incredible photographers who are out there busting their asses.

For a number of reasons, this selection also focuses on domestic stories. There are so many important international stories—and exceptional photos that tell them. When we started pulling photos from Russia, Australia, Ethiopia, Chile, Myanmar, Brazil, Ukraine, Greece…well, it got to be a lot. We had to focus. 

With all that in mind, here’s to another year of amazing photos of sometimes awful things, and awesome photos of triumphant moments, too.

Before rioters stormed the Capitol building on January 6, they rallied on the Ellipse in support of Donald Trump at the Save America March.

Mark Peterson/Redux

Nearly a week after the pro-Trump insurrectionist mob breached the Capitol, members of the National Guard were sleeping in its halls, as the House of Representatives convened to impeach Trump for a second time.

 Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty

One of the most memorable speakers at Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20 was Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who delivered her now-famous poem “The Hill We Climb.”

Alex Wong/Getty

COVID continued to disrupt tradition and routine, with Biden conducting a virtual swearing in ceremony of political appointees from the State Dining Room of the White House. 

Evan Vucci/AP

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) set the tone for her year of dangerous antics by showing up to take her oath of office wearing a “Trump Won” face mask.

Erin Scott/Pool/AP

Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.) was the center of the congressional universe this year, wielding immense power in the evenly divided Senate, and, of course, over Biden’s sweeping agenda. Most recently, “President Manchintorpedoed the massive Build Back Better bill. He’s pictured here back in January, arriving for the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for Lloyd Austin, now the defense secretary.

 Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP

Texas suffered from a massive winter storm in February, covering the Alamo in snow and creating catastrophic conditions across the state, where millions of customers lost power and more than 200 people died.

William Luther/San Antonio Express-News/Zuma

Patients wait in the observation area after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle in April.

 Paul Christian Gordon/Zuma

Motorists wind their way through the parking lot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles to get a coronavirus vaccine. Eleven Major League Baseball stadiums opened their facilities as mass vaccination centers after vaccines first became available

 Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

The French Fire burned hillsides along Highway 155 in Sequoia National Forest, California, this summer. It was a devastating season for wildfires in the state; by November, California had experienced nearly double the amount of burned acres on average over the past five years, according to Cal Fire.

 Noah Berger/AP

A firefighter battles the Windy Fire south of California Hot Springs in September.

David McNew/Getty

People in Brooklyn react to the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20. Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd—a brutal killing that kicked off months of racial justice protests in 2020.

 Spencer Platt/Getty

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, on September 8. This followed the removal of hundreds of confederate monuments over the past few years, including in June of Charlottesville’s Lee statue, which was the focal point of 2017’s Unite the Right rally.

Ryan M. Kelly/AFP/Getty

A man walks near a “General Lee car” that was damaged by Hurricane Ida, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in early September in Louisiana and brought flooding, wind damage, and power outages along the Gulf Coast.

Sean Rayford/Getty

A home near Chauvin, Louisiana, was blown off its foundation and submerged in water after Hurricane Ida in September.

 Mark Felix/Bloomberg/Getty

Lake Oroville, California’s second largest water reservoir (2,359,720 acre-feet), was at historically low levels—just 23 percent capacity—as of September 1. Lake Oroville is a key source for collecting and delivering large amounts of water through the Central Valley and into the Sacramento River Delta, where the California State Water Project (aka., California Aqueduct) begins, moving water to Southern California and all regions in between.

George Rose/Getty

Haitian immigrants cross the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, back into Mexico on September 20. At one point this fall, some 14,000 Haitian migrants amassed under the Del Rio International Bridge, before US immigration authorities began brutally clearing out the encampment and deporting immigrants back to Haiti.

John Moore/Getty

A US Border Patrol agent on horseback uses “long leather reins in a menacing way,” according to the AP, to try and use force to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment near the bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

 Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty

Shyenne Lee, left, reacts when her younger sister, Sunisa Lee, clinched the gold medal in the women’s Olympic gymnastics all-around at the Tokyo Olympics. Sunisa Lee is the first Hmong American and first Asian woman to win the Olympic gymnastics all-around title.

Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune/AP

Naomi Osaka plays during the US Open Tennis tournament. She would later withdraw from the competition, saying, “When I win I don’t feel happy, I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose I feel very sad. And I don’t think that’s normal.” Earlier in the year, Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing mental health concerns.

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty

Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone listens to testimony during the House select committee hearing on the January 6 attack on Capitol Hill.

“I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm as I heard chants of ‘Kill him with his own gun.’ I can still hear those words in my head,” Fanone told the committee in his haunting testimony. Fanone retired from the police force in December. Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP 

Supporters of pop star Britney Spears participate in a #FreeBritney rally at DC’s Lincoln Memorial in July. Her 13-year conservatorship was finally ended in November.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty

After the Omicron variant was detected in late November, a woman gets a COVID-19 test at a mobile testing site in Times Square.

 Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Protesters march against New York City’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for public school employees, which went into effect in early October.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty

A boy receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Capitol Hill Day School in Washington, D.C., in early November, shortly after vaccines were approved for children.

 Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty

A US Air Force aircrew prepares to evacuate people from Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 21, shortly before the deadline for US troops to withdraw from the country after 20 years there.

Senior Airman Taylor Crul/US Air Force

Five-month-old Aqsa is carried by her father as her family arrives at Dulles International Airport after being evacuated from Kabul on August 27. Refugees continued to arrive in the United States one day after twin suicide bombings at the gates of the Kabul airport killed 13 US military service members and nearly 100 Afghans.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Student wear face masks as they attend their first day in school after summer vacation at the St. Lawrence Catholic School north of Miami.

Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty

Dr. Brooke Decker, left, argues with Dana Gibson, right, about Gibson’s opposition to a mask mandate for students in the North Allegheny School District, at North Allegheny Senior High School in McCandless, Pennsylvania.

Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/AP

Third-grade teacher Candace Ropp, left, welcomes students back for the first day of class at Stanford Elementary School in Garden Grove, California, on August 16. Students and teachers were required to wear masks in the classroom but not outside.

Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty

Containers are stacked up on Terminal Island in the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California. For much of the second half of the year, Biden battled bottlenecks at ports and attempted to ease snags in the nation’s backed-up supply chain.

 Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty

Activists from Greenpeace USA set up a marionette puppet depicting Exxon Mobil, Manchin, Biden, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), outside the Capitol. Some of Manchin’s strongest objections to Biden’s Build Back Better plan have been over climate provisions.  

Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Zuma

In October, a 33-year-old mother of three from central Texas waits to get the all clear from medical staff to leave after getting an abortion at a Shreveport, Louisiana, clinic. The woman was one of more than a dozen patients who arrived at the abortion clinic—many of whom were from Texas, where the nation’s most restrictive abortion law has been in effect since September, sending many women out of state.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

During national demonstrations against the six-week abortion ban in Texas, several thousand New Yorkers gather to demand legal access to abortions in Foley Square, New York City.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty

A damaged theater following a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky, on December 11. Record-setting tornadoes ripped across several US states in the storm, killing more than 70 people in Kentucky alone.

Liam Kennedy/Bloomberg/Getty



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