Merlin Alfaro, 31, and her children, José Luis Guevara, 3, and Maydelin Guevara, 7. "Beyond Walls," Feb. 4 issue.
Davide Monteleone for TIME

TIME's Best Portraits of 2019

December 18, 2019 12:02 PM EST

In July, Robert Chelsea became the first African American to receive a face transplant after his face was disfigured in a harrowing car accident. His remarkable before-and-after photos were published in TIME alongside a story titled “The Face of Change.”

While that title describes Chelsea quite literally, it’s befitting of many of the portraits TIME commissioned this year. As startling structural shifts took place around the world, TIME was there to capture both the leaders and the followers of the movements driving them — as well as those on the sidelines whose lives were forever changed.

In Stockholm, Greta Thunberg posed in a resplendent green dress with well-worn sneakers peeking out from underneath the hem, a nod to her travels around the globe demanding that leaders take action on climate change. (She was later named TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year). In Washington, the new class of congresspeople, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Lauren Underwood, were captured in kinetic dialogue, foreshadowing the tenacity and iconoclasm they would bring to their jobs on Capitol Hill.

Cicely Tyson: Djeneba Aduayom for TIME; Chasten and Pete Buttigieg: Ryan Pfluger for TIME; Margaret Atwood: Mickalene Thomas for TIME; Emmanuel Macron: Christopher Anderson—Magnum Photos for TIME; Greta Thunberg: Evgenia Arbugaeva for TIME; Dalai Lama: Ruven Afanador for TIME; Colson Whitehead: Wayne Lawrence for TIME; Lil Nas X: Kelia Anne for TIME; Taylor Swift: Pari Dukovic for TIME

In portraits of unexpected newcomers who came to dominate the cultural conversation, including Lil Nas X, Lizzo and Naomi Osaka, the subjects stare defiantly into the camera, as if daring anyone to tell them they don’t belong at the top of their respective fields.

These images include both well-known figures — like the Dalai Lama, Margaret Atwood and Donald Trump — and faceless unknowns fighting against injustice. Some depict everyday people in mundane situations that speak to the state of the planet in 2019, as in one photograph of two ice-sellers pausing from their jobs on a sweltering day in Jacobabad, Pakistan, one of the hottest cities on earth.

Each portrait assignment is an opportunity for TIME to create an original and lasting visual. The success of that mission depends on factors like how much time we get with the subject (about five minutes with French President Emmanuel Macron); what they may do or wear in front of the camera (Lil Nas X wore a custom suit); and which photographer we choose to execute it all. How will they take command with the subject? Do they need an hour, or can they nail it in just a few minutes?

Sometimes it all goes according to plan. Sometimes everything changes when the subject walks into a room. Each time — and each year — brings something new. Below, see TIME’s best portraits of 2019.

Greta Thunberg. "Next Generation Leaders," May 27 issue.
Hellen van Meene for TIME

 

Ice sellers in Pakistan. "The Hottest City on Earth," Sept. 23 issue.
Matthieu Paley for TIME

 

Naomi Osaka. "The Heir," Jan. 21 issue.
Cait Oppermann for TIME

 

Lil Nas X. "It's His Country," Aug. 26 issue.
Kelia Anne for TIME

 

Subha, 35, and the hands of her children: Fahad, 15; Fahdi, 13; Linda, 10; Liza, 7; and Salam, 5. "What Remains of ISIS," June 3 issue.
Newsha Tavakolian—Magnum Photos for TIME

 

Christine Blasey Ford, "TIME 100 Most Influential People," April 29 issue.
Danielle Levitt for TIME

 

Pete Buttigieg. "First Family," May 13 issue.
Ryan Pfluger for TIME

 

Sandra Oh. "TIME 100 Most Influential People," April 29 issue.
Pari Dukovic for TIME

 

Rachel Kahan nurses her daughter Michaela, while nanny Annie Nabbie trims the child's toenails. "At What Cost?," Oct. 21 issue.
Anastasia Taylor-Lind for TIME

 

Cierra Smith, 18, of Portland, Ore. "America's Forever War," Oct. 21 issue.
Gillian Laub for TIME

 

A 17-year-old former boy scout from Michigan. "These Men Say the Boy Scouts' Sex Abuse Problem Is Worse Than Anyone Knew," June 17 issue.
David Kasnic for TIME

 

Dalai Lama. "The Survivor," March 18 issue.
Ruven Afanador for TIME

 

President Donald Trump. "'My Whole Life Is A Bet'," July 1 issue.
Pari Dukovic for TIME

 

Front row, from left to right: Rep. Antonio Delgado (D–NY), Rep. Deb Haaland (D–NM), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D–MI), Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R–PA); Second row, from left to right: Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D–NM), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–NY), Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D–NJ), Rep. Max Rose (D–NY), Third row, from left to right: Sen. Josh Hawley (R–MO), Rep. Carol Miller (R–WV), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D–MA), Rep. Katie Porter (D–CA); Fourth/last row, from left to right: Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D–VA), Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R–TX), Rep. Lauren Underwood (D–IL), Sen. Kevin Cramer (R–ND). "The class of 2019 looks more like America," Jan. 21 issue.
Jeff Brown for TIME

 

Mattel gender-neutral doll. "It can be a boy, a girl, neither or both," Oct. 7 issue.
JUCO for TIME

 

Jojo Siwa. "A Brand is Born," Sept. 2 issue.
Charlotte Rutherford for TIME

 

Jeff Daniels. "Playing Atticus Finch on Broadway, Jeff Daniels marvels at the appetite for public decency," June 3 issue.
Amy Lombard for TIME

 

United States Women National Soccer Team. "Athletes of the Year," Dec. 23 issue.
Cait Oppermann for TIME

 

Amandine Henry. "Players to Watch," June 3 issue.
Nhu Xuan Hua for TIME

 

Paul, from Boston, on the front porch of The Atlantic House in Provincetown, Mass. "From Florida to Alaska, America’s LGBTQ Bars Feel Like Home to Many," June 27, 2019.
Richard Renaldi for TIME
Zach Spaulding and Farzad Alikozai at Stonewall. "From Florida to Alaska, America’s LGBTQ Bars Feel Like Home to Many," June 27, 2019.
Rebecca Kiger for TIME

 

Nancy Pelosi. "TIME 100 Most Influential People," April 29 issue.
Pari Dukovic for TIME

 

Donice Schilling at My Sister's Room. "From Florida to Alaska, America’s LGBTQ Bars Feel Like Home to Many," June 27, 2019.
Peyton Fulford for TIME

 

Aidyn Sucec. "'This Isn't Just About A Pronoun'," Nov. 15, 2019.
Maddie McGarvey for TIME

 

Michael B. Jordan. "The Best of Fall," Sept. 16 issue.
Mickalene Thomas for TIME

 

Margaret Atwood. "The Best of Fall," Sept. 16 issue.
Mickalene Thomas for TIME

 

Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. "TIME 100 Most Influential People," April 29 issue.
Collier Schorr for TIME

 

Jenny Holzer. "The Art of Optimism," Feb. 18 issue.
Djeneba Aduayom for TIME

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "'The Strong Survive'," July 22 issue.
Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME

 

Robert Chelsea. "The Face of Change," Nov. 4 issue.
John Francis Peters for TIME

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "The Reckoning," Oct. 7 issue.
Stefan Ruiz for TIME

 

Ida Dickens. "Private Jones Comes Home," March 11 issue.
Benjamin Rasmussen for TIME

 

Lizzo. "Entertainer of the Year," Dec. 23 issue.
Paola Kudacki for TIME

Contact us at editors@time.com.