It was a year when time seemed to hurtle back toward the past, as a brutal land war of medieval cruelty gutted Ukrainian villages and cities and sent millions on a stumbling path into the unknown.
It was a year when the world glimpsed too much of its apparent future, when fire turned Californian hills a lurid red, drought sucked a lake dry in Nevada, and floods transformed roads into rivers in Florida and Pakistan. The weather behaved like an angry, exhausted 2-year-old, lashing out in every which way, trying to send a message that was not always deciphered.
And 2022 was a year in which the present stood up and said “Hold on, we’re not collapsing into a hopeless future. Not quite yet.” In the midterm elections, Americans made clear they were exhausted by years of cries of doom. They sought stability and a bit of quiet.
After three years of too much disease and death, the virus that brought the world to a halt didn’t go away. But science, weary resignation and ever-resurgent hope helped people get on with life, and many found at least some semblance of the normalcy they craved.
The images of 2022 are grim and serious — in Ukraine, a funeral for a 13-year-old girl; dead people stuffed into garbage bags, sprawled on pavements, strewn around in mass graves. But there are scenes, too, of joy and achievement — girls’ mouths agape over victory on a lacrosse field in Virginia, a man on horseback triumphantly dunking a basketball into a hoop in a small town in Oklahoma.
In all, though, the journey through this year, like too many of late, was a push across too much treacherous terrain.
Many of the fault lines were man-made: In South Korea, a Halloween celebration collapsed into a deadly crush of people. In Uvalde, Tex., one man with a gun turned a hall of learning and growth into a place where children were executed, an utterly impossible horror now become all too common. In Buffalo, another man with a gun made a supermarket called Tops into a bottomless well of grief, killing people he hated because of how they looked. In San Antonio, 51 migrants packed into a truck like sides of meat, though transported with far less care, ended up dead, suffocated on the way from Mexico into Texas.
Even the less violent images often speak of disputes that never seem to ease: On the streets, there were tears and cheers, relief and anxiety, after six of the Supreme Court’s nine justices changed the rules over who decides whether a conception shall become a person.
There were moments that spoke of possibility, too often dashed: At opposite ends of an absurdly long table, Russia’s bellicose leader, Vladimir Putin, and French President Emmanuel Macron, divided by a continent of conflict, stared off into any place but each other’s souls. There was unexpected drama: At the Oscars in Hollywood, before a worldwide audience, a star actor slapped a star comedian over a joke. And then there was the rolling carnival of the permanent American political campaign: People wearing their passions on their shoes, their neckties, their hats and, of course, their sleeves. People who mostly can’t stand each other nonetheless headed out to show their colors and make their pitches and, even now, put at least some of their trust in a fistful of ballots.
It’s no accident that these images close with a rocket ship escaping gravity, a fireball of hope, a powerful reach for a future that is somehow better, bigger, bolder. Blast off!
– Marc Fisher
To heighten your experience, we’ve created a musical score to accompany these images.
War in Ukraine
In Ukraine, Russia’s assault was repeatedly beaten back, but the damage done day after day was relentless and devastating: Husbands and wives, parents and children tore themselves from each other — women and little ones fleeing by train, bus and foot; men sent off to confront an enemy whose troops seemed at once uninspired and cruel. Ukrainians crowded into underground shelters, hid in bombed-out apartments, watched week after week as their homes went up in smoke. Death came from every direction, from tanks and drones and bombs. On military maps, arrows pointed to progress against the invaders. On the ground, it was a far more searing story, told in caskets and body bags and dead human beings, splayed across the streets.
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Democracy was on the ballot. So were the frustrations and resentments of everyday life, the soaring prices, the feeling of insecurity, the way people didn’t seem to get along with one another anymore. Amid all the antagonisms between red and blue, party against party, a people divided even within families, Americans campaigned much as they always had — waving flags, going door to door, showing their colors — demonstrating that despite a historic wave of mistrust, they were sticking with the system. By and large, they voted for stability, for relief from the cacophony and hostility of the past few years. Democracy may have won the day, but any victory remained fragile. The battle for the future lumbers on.
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Climate and natural disasters
Through flames and dust, with too much water in some places and not enough in others, the elements seemed to speak with rage and desperation in 2022. Tornadoes plucked apart houses as if they were built of matchsticks. Floods tossed boats and lumber and sheds about, creating new waterways where man had built roads of concrete and asphalt. It seemed at times like a wholesale reordering of nature, with a shifting climate turning dry spots wet and wet spots dry. Hot places got hotter. In image after image, people can only stare at what was and wonder what’s next.
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