Instagram’s CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday to discuss the power of images.
The audience with the Pope, which took place at the Apostolic Palace, is the latest move by Instagram to assert itself as the dominant platform for visual communication, with the Facebook-owned corporation saying images can “unite people across borders, cultures and generations,” it said in a statement released to TIME ahead of the meeting.
In recent months, Instagram has built up teams of curators to boost the social sharing platform’s discovery features. “We believe you can see the world happening in real time through Instagram,” Systrom told TIME in a previous interview. “And I think that’s true whether it’s Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour, which trends on Instagram all the time, or an important moment like a protest overseas, or a march like ‘Je suis Charlie’ in Paris. We want to make all of those, no matter how serious, no matter how playful, discoverable and accessible on Instagram.”
At his papal audience, Systrom brought a curated book of 10 Instagram images to further prove that point. It included images from the Nepalese earthquake and the continuing exodus of migrants and refugees from the Middle East into Europe, as well as photographs from inside North Korea and from the heart of last year’s Baltimore protests.
Malin Fezehai (@malinfezehai) is an Eritrean-Swedish photographer who explores the African diaspora and the lives of displaced peoples around the world. This image captures a Christmas celebration in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Read TIME LightBox’s interview with Fezehai.
Russian photojournalist Sergey Ponomarev (@sergeyponomarev) captured images of the human waves of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Africa as they landed on the beaches of Greece.
Adriana Zehbrauskhas (@adrianazehbrauskas) is a Brazilian photographer based in Mexico. Her long-term project traces the memory of 43 students who disappeared after being taken into police custody.
American photojournalist and activist Stephanie Sinclair (@stephsinclairpix) has waged a global campaign against what she calls the most pervasive form of human slavery: the subjugation of women and young girls through child marriage.
Hungarian photographer Balazs Gardi (@balazsgardi) has traveled across the world documenting water crises, from floods to drought, and the daily struggles of people — like a young boy in a Pakistani refugee camp — to survive the scarcity of life’s most vital resource.
American photographer David Guttenfelder (@dguttenfelder) opened a window into the isolated country of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, offering some of the first glimpses into everyday contemporary life in North Korea. Guttenfelder was TIME’s pick for Instagram Photographer of 2013.
Nana Kofi Acquah
Ghanaian photographer Nana Kofi Acquah (@africashowboy) shares images of his country that challenge the mainstream media’s portrayals of the African continent as simply a place of poverty and disease. Along with a collective called @everydayafrica, he reminds the world that life, in all its aspects, continues and thrives across the world. Read about Everyday Africa on TIME LightBox.
Hours after Nepal was struck by a devastating earthquake, a band of South Asian photographers launched #nepalphotoproject. Twenty-six-year-old Bangladeshi photographer Ismail Ferdous (@ismailferdous) was among those who shared images of the aftermath, which were used to rally and coordinate humanitarian relief. Read TIME LightBox’s interview with Ferdous.
When Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore, the city erupted in protests. A 26-year-old aspiring photographer named Devin Allen (@bydvnlln) became the eyes of the nation as he shared images of his fellow demonstrators. This photograph was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine.
Camille Seaman (@camilleseaman) is a Native American photographer of the Shinnecock Nation. Her work explores extreme environments, from the North Pole to Antarctica, and severe storms and cloud formations. Her portraits of these environmental conditions serve as a reminder to humanity of our relationship to the earth. Read TIME LightBox’s interview with Seaman.