2020 in Photos: Capturing Chaos

Looking back at some of the most defining moments of 2020

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In the past 12 months, any sense of normalcy has disappeared in a year dominated by uproar and uncertainty. The year began with bushfires ravaging Australia and theories of a third World War emerging. However, what few saw coming, was the spreading virus, a silent clock ticking off the days until March 11, when it was officially declared a pandemic, bringing the entire world to its knees.

COVID-19 touched each aspect of everyday life, leaving an emptiness in its wake as people shuttered themselves away and social distancing became enforced. This year, Americans also experienced unexpected losses, including Kobe and Gianna Bryant, Chadwick Boseman, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; unparalleled events, such as an outbreak of murder hornets and several devastating natural disasters; and global protests serving as catalysts for police reform and racial justice. Overall, 2020 resulted in indelible photographs from beginning to end.

Ennoti CC0.

Three days into 2020, the hashtag “World War III” started trending on Twitter after a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. This worsened an already tumultuous relationship between the US and Iran. Retaliating with missile attacks on two US military bases in Iraq, Iran ignited fears of a World War III, a potential outcome that was exacerbated online through memes and hashtags. In both countries, protests erupted over Soleimani’s death, as pictured above.

Luke Harold CC0.

On January 26, heavy fog in the San Fernando Valley caused a helicopter pilot to become disoriented and eventually crash into a Calabasas hillside at 184 miles per hour. Professional basketball player Kobe Bryant and nine other passengers on board — including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna — died instantly from blunt force trauma and were unrecognizable due to the fire that had engulfed the wreck. Arguably one of the most iconic players for the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant’s 20-year career in the NBA as a shooting guard inspired his daughter Gianna, whose own game they were flying to, to pursue basketball like her father.

Ennoti CC0.

In June 2016, citizens of the UK shocked the world when over 51 percent voted to leave the European Union. Since then, the UK and EU have been entangled in fierce negotiations, trying to figure out how to maintain Britain’s membership while simultaneously granting them more financial and political autonomy. In July 2019, Boris Johnson, one of the main proponents of Brexit, was elected as British Prime Minister, allowing him to expedite the process and make history as the first country to ever leave the bloc.

The White House CC0.

At the beginning of the year, the impeachment of President Donald Trump seemed like it would be the worst, most defining moment of his first term in office. Following a whistleblower’s complaint, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi launched an investigation into a call made by Trump to Ukrainian officials urging them to look into Joe Biden. Ultimately, he was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. While the House of Representatives approved both articles, on Feb. 5, the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump, failing to obtain majority support on either side. Alongside former Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, Trump became the third president to ever be impeached.

Delaware National Guard CC0.

The specter of COVID-19 hung in the air, instilling fear in almost everyone, particularly those with weak immune systems incapable of fighting off the virus. Due to the COVID-19 virus, travel was restricted, leaving airports and train stations that once teemed with passengers eerily empty. Proper sanitation became critical to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and extra precautions were taken to ensure the health and safety of those who needed to travel.

Simon Jowett CC0.

The specter of COVID-19 hung in the air, instilling fear in almost everyone, particularly those with weak immune systems incapable of fighting off the virus. Due to the COVID-19 virus, travel was restricted, leaving airports and train stations that once teemed with passengers eerily empty. Proper sanitation became critical to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and extra precautions were taken to ensure the health and safety of those who needed to travel.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab CC0.

The invasive arrival of two-inch long ‘murder hornets’ in the US was just another unexpected occurrence this year. First appearing in Washington in early May, Asian giant hornets attack bee colonies by using their spiked mandibles to decapitate the bees. For larger victims, such as people, the hornets deliver toxic venom through a stinger, a sensation comparable to being stabbed by a burning needle accompanied by a pain that can last for days, according to researcher Schunichi Makino. The presence of these hornets endangers bee colonies nationwide, which could be easily eradicated, leaving nothing to stop the hornets from spreading to other areas of the country.

Thomas Elliott CC0.

For eight minutes and 46 seconds, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Eventually, Chauvin, uninterrupted by any of his fellow officers, killed Floyd by cutting off the air circulation to his brain while he struggled to cry out, “I can’t breathe.” As a result, global protests against systemic racism have erupted, demanding justice for Black victims of police brutality, including Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others. Clashes between the police and protestors characterized the much-awaited national acknowledgment of police brutality and racial injustices.

Freimut Bahlo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Between climate change and years of forest mismanagement, fires have consumed the west coast, raging along California in the most active wildfire year on record with at least 9,000 documented fires. These increasingly intense fires have destroyed approximately 4 million acres of land thus far, with over $2 billion in damages. The death toll, currently at 33 people, continues to climb as the fires show no sign of slowing down with a plethora of dead forestry to use as kindling as it approaches new towns to devastate.

National Interagency Fire Center CC0.


Revolutionary champion for equality, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg inspired millions of people to stand up for what they believe in. On Sept. 18th, “Notorious RBG” (a nickname given to her for her unwavering dedication to what she believed) passed away from metastatic pancreatic cancer, which she had been battling for decades. Known for her white lace collars and fervent feminism, RBG’s memory will live on in future generations of fighters who strive to make her proud. Since her death, Justice Amy Coney Barrett has officially succeeded her, confirmed just three days before the presidential election.

The White House CC0.

Revolutionary champion for equality, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg inspired millions of people to stand up for what they believe in. On Sept. 18th, “Notorious RBG” (a nickname given to her for her unwavering dedication to what she believed) passed away from metastatic pancreatic cancer, which she had been battling for decades. Known for her white lace collars and fervent feminism, RBG’s memory will live on in future generations of fighters who strive to make her proud. Since her death, Justice Amy Coney Barrett has officially succeeded her, confirmed just three days before the presidential election.

Ennoti CC0.

Watching each state become red or blue, Nov. 3rd proved to be a tense and distressing day. US constituents checked their phone hourly for updates, and different news outlets predicted how each state would apportion their respective number of electoral votes to either President Donald Trump or opposing candidate Joseph Biden. Each swing state was more crucial than in any other election, as the candidates remained neck-in-neck until battleground states Pennsylvania and Georgia turned blue, giving Biden 306 electoral votes. Alongside him, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris made history as the first Black and South Asian woman to win the vice presidency.