A COVID-19 patient is prepared for intubation by the anesthesiologist at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J., on March 31. The plastic tent is so the virus isn’t spread while transporting the patient between units.
Danny Kim for TIME
December 21, 2020 2:23 PM EST

In news events chronicled by TIME photographers across the year, the invisible forces pushing us apart become visible: The plastic barriers built and the Tyvek worn to separate a pathogen from a human being. The truculence on the face of President Trump in the wee hours after Election Day, and the Tiki torch and pitchfork in the hands of a man who showed up at an Arizona election office the next day wearing a MAGA hat and a pistol. On a Brooklyn street corner, protesters pull a young man one way as police struggle to drag him the other.

It’s entirely too easy to forget that 2020 began amid at least the trappings of normality, with Democratic presidential candidates barnstorming snowy Iowa and New Hampshire. By autumn, photos of Elizabeth Warren raising a beer in Cedar Rapids and Bernie Sanders raising a fist in Manchester had assumed the quality of a daguerreotype, forgotten images arrived from a previous era.

Our own time existed in a state of suspension. Peter van Agtmael captured something close to its essence on an April day in Ocean City, Md., in a photograph that could serve as a portrait of 2020: A parking lot empty of cars, facing a flat sea, beneath a vaguely ominous sky that might be cloudless or might be overcast. From here it’s hard to know. —Karl Vick

Iranian women at a mosque in Tehran, on Jan. 5, mourn Qasem Soleimani's death.
Newsha Tavakolian—Magnum Photos for TIME
A protester, wearing a shirt that reads "Please Stop the Violence," is dragged near Brooklyn's Barclays Center on May 29, four days after George Floyd's death.
Malike Sidibe for TIME
President Trump's last rally before the 2020 election in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Nov. 3.
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos for TIME
A father holding a child walks by a man with a pitchfork, gun and Tiki torch at the Maricopa County election office in Phoenix on Nov. 5, two days after the election.
Sinna Nasseri for TIME
President Trump during remarks in the East Room of the White House early on the morning of Nov. 4. "We'll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court," Trump said.
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos for TIME
Artist Connor Czora breaks a ceramic MAGA hat sculpture in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 3.
Elizabeth Bick for TIME
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, photographed at the Capitol on Dec. 5, 2019, staked the 2020 elections on impeachment. "No one is above the law," she said.
Philip Montgomery for TIME
A man desperately tries to protect himself in Edirne, Turkey, from tear gas launched by Greek authorities at the border in March.
Emin Ozmen—Magnum Photos for TIME
Mist gathers on the eastern shore of Hart Island, the city's "potters field," on June 26.
Sasha Arutyunova for TIME
President Trump arrives to speak in the East Room of the White House, one day after the Senate acquitted him on two articles of impeachment, on Feb. 6.
Gabriella Demczuk for TIME
A man rides his tricycle in front of earthquake-destroyed buildings in the town center of Guanica, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 8.
Christopher Gregory-Rivera for TIME
Portraits and remembrances of Mary Hall Daniels at her house—now home to her grandson's family—in Hilliard, Fla. She had paid for the home with money awarded to her because of what had happened to her very first house, in an obscure rural hamlet called Rosewood. In 1923, when she was 3 years old, a white mob burned down the mostly Black enclave.
Rahim Fortune for TIME
A health worker checks an elderly woman's oxygen level, after receiving a call about a suspected COVID-19 case, in the northern Italian province of Bergamo.
Lorenzo Meloni—Magnum Photos for TIME
Laurie Halbrook, a registered nurse, holds her son Michael, 3, during a walk through their neighborhood in New Orleans.
Kathleen Flynn for TIME
A long-haired Lhasa Apso is wheeled down the runway to the gate of stardom at the Westminster Dog Show in New York City on Feb. 10.
Evan Angelastro for TIME
Sen. Bernie Sanders raises his fist at the New Hampshire Democratic Party's McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Event in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 8.
Tony Luong for TIME
An empty parking lot in the beach town of Ocean City, Md., on April 16.
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos for TIME
Eric Chou walks on an extended stage that brought him close to fans sitting on the second level of the Taipei Arena on Aug. 8.
An Rong Xu for TIME
Black Lives Matter protesters march through a residential neighborhood on Election Day in Portland, Ore., on Nov 3.
Rian Dundon for TIME
Press near the White House on the eve of the Nov. 3 election in Washington, D.C.
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos for TIME
Nurse Sarah Ladd and school resource officer Kristen Tyrseck ensure kids keep a safe distance apart as they enter Wesley Elementary School in Middletown, Conn., in July.
Gillian Laub for TIME
Soldiers from the 54th Quartermaster Company at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, which also served as a disaster morgue after the 9/11 attacks; by mid-May, COVID-19 had killed at least five times as many New Yorkers.
Natalie Keyssar for TIME
Dr. Laura Mulvey, who practices emergency medicine, in her isolation unit in the ICU at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn on March 26. "It's not easy being a patient," Mulvey said, "especially in your own hospital." Nearby, the ICU team holds a meeting.
Benjamin Norman for TIME
The transport team moves the body bags of deceased COVID-19 patients from the overflowing morgue of Brooklyn's Wyckoff Heights Medical Center into the improvised morgue set up outside on April 27. Three refrigerated semitrailers, capable of holding more than 150 bodies between them, were brought in as an emergency solution during the height of the pandemic. The transports often occurred at night to avoid upsetting neighbors of the hospital.
Meridith Kohut for TIME
Faith United Church of Christ in State College, Pa. Many students are tuning in to classes online from their dorm rooms.
Eva O'Leary for TIME
A list of drinking games on the side of a house in State College. The typically bustling main campus of Penn State was quieter than normal.
Eva O'Leary for TIME
Sen. Elizabeth Warren holds a meet-and-greet at a pub in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Jan. 26.
September Dawn Bottoms for TIME
Lydia Yang says goodbye to her father Noh Park during a socially distant Father's Day event at a Los Angeles nursing home.
Isadora Kosofsky for TIME
Members of the New Black Panther Party make an appearance at George Floyd Square in South Minneapolis on Nov. 7.
Patience Zalanga for TIME
A protester has an emotional moment in Minneapolis on May 29, four days after George Floyd was killed.
Patience Zalanga for TIME
On May 31, a demonstrator in New York spray-paints a poster of Derek Chauvin's knee on George Floyd's neck. "Out of nowhere, this guy pulled out a purple spray can and just started writing on it. These ladies were walking by and paused to look at it. They were looking at it, like, 'Is this to attack us or to stop us from being silent?'"
Malike Sidibe for TIME
Hundreds of fans gathered near Staples Center in Los Angeles to mourn the death of Kobe Bryant, who died in a January helicopter crash in Calabasas, along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna, 13.
Alex Welsh for TIME
The remains of a water­-storage tank, razed because of uranium contamination, in Red Mesa, Ariz.; for decades during the Cold War, mines in the Navajo Nation produced the uranium used for nuclear weapons.
Matt Black—Magnum Photos for TIME
Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids on Feb. 1.
Devin Yalkin for TIME
A sign for the Bernie Sanders campaign in the snow in Concord, N.H., on Feb. 8. Sanders ended his 2020 presidential bid in April.
Tony Luong for TIME
Joe Biden in Osage, Iowa, on Jan. 22. At the time, his crowds in the state had been smaller than those of his top rivals.
September Dawn Bottoms for TIME
Supporters at Pete Buttigieg's rally in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 11.
M. Scott Brauer for TIME
Two girls are pushed in a double stroller in a crowd of people in Tehran mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani.
Newsha Tavakolian—Magnum Photos for TIME
Michael Fowler, a coroner in Dougherty County, Ga., responds to a resident found dead alone in his apartment.
Christopher Morris—VII for TIME
The Tower of Pisa in March. Tourist attractions had closed across Italy due to the pandemic.
Lorenzo Meloni—Magnum Photos for TIME
Discolored obituary portraits at the printing plant of L'Eco di Bergamo in Erbusco; the newspaper dedicated more pages to accommodate the death toll.
Lorenzo Meloni—Magnum Photos for TIME
Sarah Rugendyke, 7, sits on a play castle that was burned on her family’s property in Cobargo on Jan. 20; an out-of-control bushfire devastated the tourist town about 240 miles south of Sydney on New Year’s Eve.
Adam Ferguson for TIME
A gathering of a right-wing militia in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 5.
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos for TIME
A woman takes a knee as George Floyd's funeral procession enters the cemetery in Houston on June 9. "People were chanting George Floyd's name and 'no justice, no peace!'"
Ruddy Roye for TIME
Supporters of President Trump demonstrate, argue with press and become hostile at the Cuban restaurant La Carreta in Miami on Nov. 7.
Ruddy Roye for TIME
With punching bags and dummies overhead, instructor Javier Sola teaches frisking and handcuffing techniques to recruits at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission facility in Burien, Wash., on Oct. 22. Washington State is one of the few places in the U.S. that requires all recruits to go through the state-run Basic Law Enforcement Academy, except for those becoming state patrol officers, a system that advocates of police reform support.
Jovelle Tamayo for TIME
Joe Biden speaks with a supporter at a Town Hall with John Kerry in Cedar Rapids on Feb. 1.
September Dawn Bottoms for TIME

Correction, Jan. 4
A caption in the original version of this story misstated the date of a photograph showing a smashed MAGA hat sculpture. It was taken on Nov. 3, not Nov. 4.

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