When we look back on where we’ve been in any given year, we may think about how much our kids have grown, what we’ve accomplished at work or at home, how much money we’ve saved (or not). But we should also remember that our lives are part of a greater whole, a larger story of how our hopes and disappointments mesh with those of others. And that story is best told in faces, as captured in these TIME portraits from 2022.
When we see Paola Kudacki’s elegant, expressive portrait of Serena Williams, we’re reminded of everything this extraordinarily gifted athlete has given us—but we also see the face of a woman who, like many of us, has had to make difficult decisions about balancing her career with raising a family. Yet as one career rounds toward a new phase, another is just winding up: the young Japanese-born phenomenon Shohei Ohtani, an All-Star as both pitcher and hitter, is infusing American baseball with new energy. Ian Allen’s portrait captures both the determination and the sense of joy this record-breaking star brings to the game.
These portraits also show us people who are working hard to change our world. Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement in 2006, and her dedication to fighting for survivors of sexual assault has only intensified in the years since. Lelanie Foster’s rendering of this remarkable activist captures her galvanizing spirit. In other portraits, we see ordinary citizens facing challenges that many would rather look away from. A young family, parents and two children, make a new life for themselves in Portland, Ore., after leaving their Austin home due to Texas’ increasing hostility to trans youth. Ricardo Nagaoka’s portrait shows this small, tight group huddled together, closing ranks against the forces that threaten to crack them apart—yet the mother of this family faces the camera defiantly, revealing her willingness to do whatever it takes to make life better not just for her children, but for all of ours as well.
You’ll find portraits of entertainers who have been part of our lives for years, like Steven Spielberg. He may be a filmmaking genius, but photographer Tania Franco Klein also captures something of his boyish mischievousness. And Michelle Yeoh, long a superstar in Hong Kong movies, has received long overdue praise in the U.S. for her performance the indie hit Everything Everywhere All at Once. Michelle Watt’s portrait shows this dynamic performer in action, capturing her boundless energy and radiance.
These portraits remind us, too, of the kind of bravery humans need to summon when the stakes are high. Just two months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in February, photographer Alexander Chekmenev captured a remarkable image of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in Kiev. In this defiant yet refined black-and-white portrait, Zelensky faces the camera directly, solemnly, as if making a promise both to his people and to the world at large. It’s a picture whose power reaches us in a flash, dissolving whatever international borders or oceans might separate us. A great portrait breaks boundaries that way, reminding us of the extraordinary qualities of that thing we so commonly think of as everyday life.—Stephanie Zacharek