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Pictures We Love: Something to Believe In

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The Kumari of Tokha, nine-year-old Dangol, became a living goddess as an infant. A kumari’s eyes are believed to draw the beholder into direct contact with the divine. For religious festivals her forehead is painted red, a sign of creative energy.

As the year began to come to a close, we asked National Geographic staff who work closely with photography—through the magazine, Your Shot, News, Travel, and Proof—to choose a photo from 2015 that they just can’t stop thinking about. There’s no formula for what makes an image resonate—it can be a piercing gaze, the perfect light, or a tender moment that strikes a chord with our editors. Over the coming days, we’ll reveal the 2015 photographs they found most memorable and why.

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Sister Marzena Michalczyck, 31, a nun from Kraków, Poland, pauses to pray during her weeklong walk to Czestochowa. Millions of pilgrims trek there to see the Black Madonna, an icon believed to bestow miracles upon the faithful. “The World’s Most Powerful Woman,” December 2015 Photograph by Diana Markosian

This is faith in its purest form—quiet, intimate, peaceful devotion. “No huffiness, or rancor,” as the poet Billy Collins writes. Since seeing this image for the first time, I often think about it during my own prayers. My heart takes me to that golden field, where I can pause to ask for strength in the journey ahead, and where I am answered by a whispering breeze on my cheeks.

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The second day of harvest is cut short by a supercell blowing in from the West. Colton prays that the rain will hold off or stray to the south as his wife, Lauren, looks on and their niece Carlee twirls in her own rain dance. Best of Daily Dozen, October 2015 Photograph by Elliot Ross, National Geographic Your Shot

A good photo should make you feel something. A great photo should move you. When I saw photographer Elliot Ross’ photo as I was editing October’s Best of Daily Dozen for Your Shot, I was overcome by the immediate intimacy and empathy I felt for this family before I even read the caption. Inspired by the work of FSA photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, Ross has been photographing the rural working class, documenting their “deep sense of faith, family, and connectedness to the land.” It’s easy to forget when you live in cities like Washington, D.C., that there are still so many who rely on the land for their livelihood and that drama can play out in a single moment. This image transported me to this time and place and, more exceptional, an image I’ve never seen before.

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Ginny Mooney comforts her adopted daughter, Lena, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, after physical and speech therapy. The six-year-old has behavioral and cognitive deficits, partly from neglect in a Ukrainian orphanage. She is swaddled for her comfort. Photograph by Lynn Johnson

The light is a blessing. Just an ordinary bedroom with mother and child in a loving embrace, and it’s not until you look more closely that you notice the girl’s arms wrapped within her clothing to keep her from hurting herself, not until you read the caption that you learn she suffered earlier in her life as an orphan. But their expressions give you hope—that somehow the force of a mother’s love can nurture a daughter until she’s ready to face the world waiting outside those windows. And meanwhile, in this protective nest, the healing light washes over them.

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Hindu priests breathe prayers into rising smoke on a festival day in Barharwa Lakhansen, Bihar state. Raised in the Hindu faith, Gandhi incorporated passages from the Koran and the Bible into his prayers. His vision of a secular and democratic India is instilled in today’s constitution. “In the Footsteps of Gandhi,” July 2015 Photograph by Rena Effendi

I am in love with this image from Rena Effendi’s story “In the Footsteps of Gandhi.” The whole portfolio is gorgeous, but this is the photograph that transports me to India. The color, the light, the emotion, the ambience. You can practically smell the smoke and hear the prayers. This picture could’ve been taken yesterday or a hundred years ago. It’s classic National Geographic.

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The Kumari of Tokha, nine-year-old Dangol, became a living goddess as an infant. A kumari’s eyes are believed to draw the beholder into direct contact with the divine. For religious festivals her forehead is painted red, a sign of creative energy. “The Living Goddesses of Nepal,” June 2015 Photograph by Stephanie Sinclair

There were dozens of incredible images published in National Geographic this year, but I’m a little biased toward a story I edited on Nepal’s living goddesses for a few reasons: It was my first time working with the incredibly talented and driven Stephanie Sinclair, it was a wonderfully rich and colorful cultural story, and the images were just stunning. This photo of nine-year-old Dangol jumped right out of the take of 13,844 photographs. Not only is it a beautiful moment—the eyes and color drawing you in—but the serendipity of the final strokes of red applied by a rose stem also creates a perfect lede for the story.

Discover more of our favorite images from 2015 in these related “Pictures We Love” posts:

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