Extraordinary photos of the year so far: protests, pandemic, and wildfires

COVID-19 is still with us—but photos published so far this year show us how life goes on, for better and for worse.

Photograph by Joshua Rashaad McFadden, National Geographic
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Alena Battle of Charlotte, North Carolina, holds her son, Tamaj Bulloch, during the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 2020. The event, on the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, honored the original protest while emphasizing the work still to be done, especially for police and criminal justice reform.

Photograph by Joshua Rashaad McFadden, National Geographic

“It was important to me that I become part of history,” said Schcola Chambers of Miami, Florida, who joined the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march protesting for racial justice in Washington, D.C., this past August. This has certainly been a year for making history—for those who are actively protesting for change, for those fighting or fleeing the wildfires raging through the West, and for our entire global population still firmly in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic. Images of this year range from tragic to inspiring: funerals for COVID-19 victims, pilgrims taking selfies in India, drones capturing never-before-seen views of Mount Everest, and essential workers still risking their health and their lives to treat us when we are sick and to keep food on our plates.

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Alem Bekele, Herani Bekele, and Bayza Anteneh stand in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 2020. “We’re out here because we’re tired of injustice, and we’re here to make a difference for future generations,” Alem Bekele said.

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“It was important to me that I become part of history,” said Schcola Chambers of Miami, Florida, during August’s “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March in Washington, D.C. “And [to] show my grandkids and their grandkids that this is love in action.”

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A photograph of George Floyd, killed by Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officers, is projected onto the graffitied Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia. Erected in 1890, the statue memorializes Virginian Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

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Adam Canaday, who portrays a journeyman coach driver, stands with his horse, Commodore, at Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is one of dozens of historical interpreters of color who work at the living-history site.

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A makeshift memorial honors Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19, 2020. The Supreme Court Justice, a champion of gender equality, died on Sept. 18 of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was 87.

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This is the first year that youth activist Winter BreeAnne, a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., will be old enough to vote for president. A veteran of several get-out-the-vote campaigns, the Riverside, California, teen has developed a program to promote civic engagement among youths.

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A women’s march, called Manifa, wound through the Old Town of Gdańsk, Poland, this spring, highlighting feminist and environmental concerns with the slogan “Women and Earth have too much to bear.” Gdańsk, with its multicultural history, has long fostered progressive social movements.

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Inside one of the churches of Tver, Russia, a centuries-old city on the banks of the Volga River, worshippers gather for overnight services celebrating Orthodox Easter, the country’s most important religious holiday. Easter is normally the occasion for outdoor processions and group singing, but this year’s services were cancelled in some places, and in others were modified by social distancing and mask orders.

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Sa Calobra is a cove in the municipality of Escorca, on the island of Mallorca, Spain. The largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Mallorca has struggled with over-tourism for decades. The cove of Sa Calobra is one of the few ways to access the sea from the Serra de Tramuntana, a mountain range designated a UNESCO World Heritage site under the Cultural Landscape category for its centuries-old terraced farming in steep terrain.

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A burnt pickup truck, covered by fire retardant, lies among the remains of Oregon’s Talent Mobile Home Estates. Only a handful of homes in the Estates survived the Alameda Fire, which burned through the towns of Talent and Phoenix in southern Oregon.

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A blueberry picker gathers fruit at Atlantic Blueberry Co. in Mays Landing, New Jersey, where most workers live on site and make between $10.30 and $13.20 an hour. Workers continued to collect the harvest and work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Physician Gerald Foret (at right) dons a protective mask before seeing COVID-19 patients at Our Lady of the Angels Hospital in Bogalusa, Louisiana.

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Relatives and loved ones gather for the double funeral of a 104-year-old mother and her son. She passed away of COVID-19 in a nursing home after catching it in a hospital in London. As the United Kingdom grapples with the pandemic, funeral directors of all different faiths and backgrounds are working to maintain tradition and adhere to religious instructions for burial.

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The body of a suspected COVID-19 victim lies in an Indonesian hospital. After the patient died, nurses wrapped the body in layers of plastic and applied disinfectant to prevent the spread of the virus.

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The Bear Fire burns near Oroville and the Plumas National Forest in California on Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze scorched over 200,000 acres in the previous 24-hour period, driven by strong winds. The fire originally started in August during a powerful lightning storm that swept across the northern and central parts of the state, but exploded in size when winds hit the fire three weeks later.

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At St. Eugene Catholic Church in Grand Chenier, Louisiana, marsh cane and mud brought inland by storm surge from Hurricane Laura are strewn across pews. As the land sinks and seas rise in Louisiana, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are seeping closer and closer to communities.

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New York City’s nearly deserted Park Avenue—normally filled with a flurry of yellow taxis, motorbike messengers, and pedestrians—is a dramatic example of how efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus have emptied city centers.

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Women strain to haul precious water from a well in Dongra, in India’s desert state of Rajasthan. Wells such as this have replaced ancient stepped structures, where women had to walk down hundreds of stairs to reach available underground water.

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Pilgrims take selfies at Drolma La, the highest point on their 32-mile kora—a circular, meditative walk around Mount Kangrinboqe in Tibet. The mountain is sacred to four religions, and four of South Asia’s rivers rise near its cardinal points. The source of the Indus River is a four-day walk north of the mountain.

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Conical ice stupas serve as water towers, storing winter meltwater for spring planting. The youth group that built this one in the northern Indian village of Gya also installed a café in its base. They used the proceeds to take village elders on a pilgrimage. “No one takes them anywhere,” one of the youths said.

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Photographer Renan Ozturk used specially modified drones to capture Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks in 360-degree panoramas. Ozturk operated a drone from Camp I on Everest’s North Col to complete this image.

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Photographer Reuben Wu programmed lit drones to circle above Utah’s Yant Flat sandstone formations, then combined several long exposures into this composite image.

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A sedated zebra is lifted by a helicopter at a ranch called Sexy Whitetails, near San Angelo, Texas. The wildness and heft of exotic hoofed wildlife make them difficult to corral and move, which has led to a lucrative subsector: transportation.

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With a firm yet delicate grip, a robot hand at the Robotics and Biology Laboratory at the Technical University of Berlin picks up a flower with its pneumatic fingers. Recent advances have brought robots closer than ever to mimicking human abilities.