A girl who, unable to get an abortion, becomes a mother before starting 7th grade; a mass of twisted metal and ash, all that remains of a home in the wake of the Maui wildfires; Bad Bunny, one of the year’s most engaging entertainers, stepping out in a pink mohair coat adorned with a bow: These photographs, all featured in TIME during 2023, constitute a map of where we’ve been and what we’ve seen, connecting us with the greater world. Sometimes we may feel we live and work in isolation, but it’s never true: there are always those facing challenges as formidable as our own, or even more so, and there are joys to be had, too. These are just a few of the gifts great photographs can bring us, a collapsing of the distance between others and ourselves.
We’re reminded how our world is changing around us when we see a flutter of birds over Delhi, a city cloaked with smog that puts both animal health and that of humans at risk. A 14-year-old Georgia teenager named Malayah faces the camera resolutely, a reminder that paying attention to the mental health of young people will make for happier, more well-adjusted grownups tomorrow—the world will be in their hands someday. And a group of citizens light candles for Tyre Nichols, beaten and killed by Memphis police in January, at the community skate park he used to frequent as a youth in Sacramento, Calif. We need to remember our dead, especially those whose deaths fill us with anger—but it’s also important to recall the things that brought joy to their lives, because even for those whose lives aren’t cut down prematurely, time is fleeting.
Pleasure is important, which is why we delight in the faces of those who put artistry in our entertainment, from the willowy, thoughtful beauty of Cate Blanchett to the sly intelligence of Martin Scorsese, whose movies have made us think, and sometimes laugh, for more than 50 years. And photographs are how we come to see our country’s leaders as real people. We see Anna Paulina Luna, the Trump-endorsed Republican congresswoman from Florida who has been known to sport an AR-15 lapel pin to show her staunch support for Second Amendment rights, feeding chickens in her yard after a day’s work. And Democratic Senator John Fetterman, of Pennsylvania, dressed in a suit, tie, and high-top sneakers, sits at an outdoor table; as he recovers from a near-fatal stroke, the iPad he uses as an auditory aid is clearly visible. Every one of us, at some point, faces a major challenge we need to overcome. Pictures like these remind us that we’re never truly alone. They may show us faces already familiar to us, or new ones whose stories need telling. Either way, they’re the story of our lives, too. —STEPHANIE ZACHAREK