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Impoverished African migrants crowd the night shore of Djibouti city, trying to capture inexpensive cell signals from neighboring Somalia—a tenuous link to relatives abroad. For more than 60,000 years our species has been relying on such intimate social connections to spread across the Earth.

Pictures We Love: Signals and Remnants

National Geographic’s Proof blog invited the photography and design teams of National Geographic magazine to look back through the hundreds of photographs from the over 75 stories published in 2013 and select one photo that spoke to their heart, intrigued them, inspired awe, made them smile—in short, to choose their favorite photo from this past year. Over the next several days we’ll bring you a round-up of the breathtaking, the touching, the extraordinary, the imperfect, and the beautiful.

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To Walk the World, December 2013

Kate LaRue, Senior Designer, Digital

This looks like the set of an M.I.A. video. Beautiful. Yet it has a simple significance: the captured bags are evidence of the many travelers who have passed through the desert. The people didn’t stay, but Stanmeyer’s photo proves they were there.

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To Walk the World, December 2013

Standing as if waiting for signals from another world, these men on the Djibouti shores hope for a faint cellphone signal from neighboring Somalia. The power of this picture speaks to our enduring quest to explore—to connect with each other wherever we go—despite facing often daunting obstacles as we roam across the Earth. We are not alone. We are all connected, or try to be.

Elena Sheveiko, Photo Coordinator

As it happens, I’ve worked with John Stanmeyer since his first ever story in National Geographic. And each story had an image that touched a hidden string in my soul. Years later, I still hear the sound. This picture from “To Walk the World” is one of them. It makes me want so much for everybody desperately trying to connect with others, to be heard and hear back from loved ones.

View these photographs and more in our interactive Year in Review.