The best photographs of 2022 – and the stories behind them – The Guardian

In a year dominated by the war in Ukraine, the plight of migrants and the climate crisis, photographers recall how they captured 20 outstanding images

Protesters at a Roe v Wade demo, New York, US

Lynsey Addario

25 June I was having dinner with old friends at a Manhattan restaurant when we heard that Roe v Wade had been overturned – the precedent that gave women the right to manage their own bodies through abortion. As an American woman, I couldn’t believe what was happening in my country. I was struggling to find the words to explain how I felt, when out of the window, I could see throngs of protesters on Park Avenue. I only had a little point-and-shoot camera and my phone with me. But I had to get out there – I couldn’t resist photographing this moment in history.

I am so pleased I saw first-hand so many people defiant and angry. It’s rare to see people in the US turn up on this scale. Once the numbers dwindled, we went back to our meal. The sting from the news hadn’t gone away, but knowing thousands and thousands of people were prepared to voice their discontent provided me with hope that at least we wouldn’t take this quietly.

A guard treating an immigrant at the southern border, Arizona, US

Mario Tama/Getty Images

A guard treating an immigrant at the southern border, Arizona, US

19 May There’s a stretch of the Arizona border with Mexico where crossing into the US is fairly straightforward, through a shallow river. I headed to the south-west of the state, after hearing reports of large numbers of people crossing. I’ve covered the border before, but never at this location.

I positioned myself near a hole in the barrier. At dusk, a large group of Jamaican people came through rapidly. Most collapsed on US soil. Some prayed, others lay on their backs, consumed by relief and exhaustion. After a while, most of them would stand up, refreshed. But I noticed this one man leaning up against the fence; he was confused and drained, unable to move or communicate. Border agents radioed for a medical team. Fifteen minutes later, he was put on to an IV drip, which a border guard held for him.

You see incredible drive and desperation on the US border. People risk their lives to make it into the US, and many of them die every year of dehydration and heatstroke. For many, it’s a fight for survival for them and their families.

The Queen having tea with Paddington Bear, London, UK

Courtesy of Buckingham Palace

The Queen having tea with Paddington Bear, London, UK

4 June While Queen Elizabeth II reached the milestone of 70 years on the throne in early February, celebrations were delayed until June, to wait for better weather. The ceremonies and events held across the platinum jubilee weekend were watched by millions of people. Parades, street parties and concerts were held involving some of the world’s most recognisable faces. But it was a short film – shown at the BBC’s Platinum Party at the Palace – that came to symbolise the occasion. In the lighthearted clip, the Queen has tea with a gaffe-prone Paddington Bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) at Buckingham Palace. Three months later, when the Queen died, officials had to issue a request for mourners to stop leaving tributes of marmalade sandwiches outside the palace.

A protest against Covid-19 mandates, Maryland, US

Alex Kent

A protest against Covid-19 mandates, Hagerstown, Maryland, US

5 March During the pandemic, I started documenting the anti-mandate protests. At first I was in Canada, where truckers blocked roads, before the action moved over to the US. For those of us who had watched the “stop the steal” protests closely, the January 6 storming of the Capitol wasn’t hugely surprising. I wanted to keep an eye on this new wave, in case it led to another major conflict. I followed it in Tennessee and New York, before I heard about a protest in Hagerstown, Maryland. It was being held in an abandoned rural fairground, but being so close to Washington DC, there was talk they might attempt to block roads into the capital.

The atmosphere was actually pretty mild: it was more of a weekend-long rally – lots of Trump flags – than direct action. Instead, it was a general conservative get-together. It felt like a music festival, but with no shows. It was an expression of identity, as things often are, I think: people looking for some sort of community.

Bernie Sanders sits in the shade, Washington, US

Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders sits in the shade, Washington

7 August The Inflation Reduction Act is one of Biden’s signature pieces of legislation. Measures like this go through a process called vote-a-rama, when senators can propose an unlimited number of amendments to the bill. Vote-a-ramas are long, often lasting through the night.

It’s a challenge for photographers to cover events like this. We’re not allowed on to the chamber floor, or to point our cameras at the Senate’s doors. So I look for scenes that capture the mood in other ways.

I’d read that Senator Sanders had proposed a bunch of amendments that were voted down, with almost every other senator opposing him. As I walked from where I park my car at the Capitol, I saw Bernie sprawled out in the shade on some steps, taking a break and chatting to a staffer. I knew he’d had a rough night, and he looked tired. We made eye contact, then I knelt down and took my pictures. It was a total chance encounter, but this fleeting moment captured the atmosphere that day better than anything I could have planned: Bernie, an isolated island, holding strong, totally exhausted.

Protesters and mourners gather at the funeral of Mahsa Amini, Iran

AFP Photo/UGC Image

Protesters and mourners gather at the funeral of Mahsa Amini, Iran

26 October The death of Mahsa Amini on 16 September in Iran sparked protests and unrest that continue to challenge the supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s repressive regime. Amini was 22 years old when she died after being detained by Iran’s brutal morality police for allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress code for women. On 26 October, protesters and mourners made their way towards Aichi cemetery in Saqez – Amini’s home town, in the western Iranian province of Kurdistan. Despite heightened security measures, part of a violent crackdown on women-led protests, thousands marched together through the street to mark 40 days since her death. Many, like this young woman, refused to wear headscarves.

The Lionesses celebrate their UEFA Women’s Euro win, London, UK

Sarah Stier/UEFA/Getty Images

The Lionesses celebrate their UEFA Women’s Euro win, London, UK

31 July For photographers, press conferences aren’t usually hugely interesting. The England manager was talking about what the win meant to her team, young Englishwomen and to the sport as a whole, when I heard this rumbling. The team burst in, singing and dancing. When the goalkeeper jumped on to the table, I went into rapid fire mode with my camera. I didn’t want to miss a single moment. You can see the smile on their manager’s face, letting herself enjoy the electricity; even the reporters got swept up in it. In professional sports, so much is choreographed and protected by media handlers. Witnessing spontaneous events like this reminds you why we are drawn to them.

An emotional goodbye at a train station, Odesa, Ukraine

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

An emotional goodbye at a train station, Odesa, Ukraine

5 March I was in Kharkiv when the war started; by day 11 I’d made it to Odesa. The train station was heaving with women, children and elderly people. I asked an official who these people were; I was told refugees from Mariupol and Kherson. A train approached, and people desperately rushed towards the doors. All the lights were off, to keep it from being targeted.

I was walking up the platform, when I saw a light from one window. There was a man saying an emotional goodbye to a woman who had boarded. I put down my camera. This could be their last goodbye: it’s not my place to interrupt it. But the man gave me a nod, so I started to photograph. I found myself weeping behind the camera. As the train started to move, he followed it up the platform. When he couldn’t keep up with it, he returned towards me, tears in his eyes. We stood together in silence.

A tree full of budgerigars, Australia

Charles Davis

A tree full of budgerigars, Australia

19 May Budgerigars are desert specialists, searching out grass for seeds to eat wherever they can find it. Across central Australia, they converge at sunrise near water sources to mingle and drink together. The budgies don’t stick around in one place long: you have to move fast, before they fly to their next location. People chase them across the country.

I was filming out in central Australia in May when someone tipped me off about this remote spot, an hour north of Alice Springs. I hired a car, arriving before dawn. By sunrise there were 30 or 40 birds there. With so many birds of prey around, the budgies showed little interest in this solo photographer.

From the trees they head down to the water in a murmuration. You can’t imagine the noise: surrounded by this swooshing, it’s like being in a helicopter with no exit. It’s cold when they fly on top of you, they move that much air. I spent four days watching a handful of trees, waiting for the right moment and lighting. It puts you in your place in the pecking order, experiencing moments like that.

Migrants move a smuggling boat into the water, Gravelines, France

Sameer al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images

Migrants move a smuggling boat into the water, Gravelines, France

12 October For years, I’ve been covering migration in northern France, spending periods focused on different parts of the experience. I’ve spent time in camps documenting daily life, on board the boats saving lives at sea, and with the French authorities. This year, I spent more time waiting on beaches, hoping to photograph smuggling operations.

In October, I was on the beach in Gravelines, near Dunkirk. A few days passed, and I saw nothing. Then, one morning at dawn, I found many people hoping to cross the Channel. They had travelled overnight on buses, and then hid for hours in the darkness near the beach waiting for their moment. At about 8am, this group carried a boat down to the water.

It’s sad for me, seeing their struggle. I had my own journey when I was forced to leave Syria, my home country. I was lucky to have papers, but not everyone is as fortunate. When I talk to people in situations like this, I hear how desperate they are; the trauma and danger they’ve lived through. They know the dangers of crossing – that they risk their lives – but they have no other option.

A young pitch invader is removed from the pitch, Southampton, UK

Hannah McKay/Reuters

A young pitch invader is removed from the pitch, Southhampton, UK

27 Aug It was right at the start of the Premier League season when I went to Southampton for the club’s clash against Manchester United. It was one of the first games after Cristiano Ronaldo rejoined his old team. With him around, you expect an exciting game but this one really wasn’t. I was sitting at the bad end of the pitch; only one goal was scored, far away from me. It was a hot day and the light was awful. By the final whistle, I was miserable. I snapped a few pictures of the teams shaking hands and had started to pack away when I looked up to see a child being dragged from the middle of the grass by security. You see pitch invaders during matches a lot, but rarely after the full-time whistle. I guess this young kid wanted to get near a hero of his. It certainly made my dull day a little more interesting.

A soldier inside the besieged Azovstal steelworks, Ukraine

Dmytro Kozatskyi

A Ukrainian soldier under siege in the Azovstal steelworks, Mariupol

16 May Just days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Mariupol – a port city of 430,000 people in the south-east of the country – found itself surrounded. The shelling had been relentless from day one, and by 2 March, Russian troops were only kilometres away. The suffering inflicted on the city’s residents became one of the defining stories of the war. Over the months-long siege of the city, thousands died, the city facing almost total destruction. Holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant were the last pockets of Mariupol’s resistance. In the plant’s tunnels, furnaces and warehouses, soldiers – and hundreds of civilians – sheltered together. On 17 May, they were eventually forced to surrender. Before they did so, Dmytro Kozatskyi, a photographer and a soldier with the Azov regiment, uploaded his images from inside the siege (including this one) to social media, asking that they be shared as widely as possible. Kozatskyi was reportedly released in a prisoner swap in September.

Anita Alvarez faints during the World Aquatics Championships, Budapest, Hungary

Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Anita Alvarez faints during the World Aquatics Championships, Budapest, Hungary

22 June There’s an underwater robot camera that we use to shoot major events in swimming, but I’d barely touched the kit before the championships this year. One afternoon, I was covering the solo free competition alone in the aquatics pool. While the camera is underwater, I sit at the very top of the highest grandstand to give myself the broadest view possible. I am nowhere near the pool itself but I have a live feed through the viewfinder to control the camera.

Midway through the session, after American swimmer Anita Alvarez’s attempt, I was checking back over the images I’d taken when the auditorium went silent. I looked down to the pool, and saw this dark shape in the water. My iPad showed a crystal clear live stream: Anita was sinking towards the bottom. For a few seconds, I was the only person there who could see what was happening. I had started to take pictures when Anita’s coach, Andrea Fuentes, dived in to rescue her. It was over within seconds. What could have been an image of tragedy was, thankfully, one of true heroism.

A father carries his son to be buried after the Cianjur earthquake, Indonesia

Anditya Aji/AFP

A father carries his son to be buried after the Cianjur earthquake, Indonesia

22 November It took two hours on a motorbike to travel from my home to the centre of the Cianjur earthquake in West Java. I arrived at 6am. Emergency tents were being put up everywhere to shelter the dead, the injured and the tens of thousands who’d seen their homes destroyed. When I arrived, the death toll was apparently 100, but in the end it was at least three times that. I started speaking to a man whose home had been crushed, who told me about a village close by that had really suffered.

When I arrived, rescue teams hadn’t yet made it. I saw someone crying; they told me their nephew and four other children were dead, buried in the rubble that had been their school building. What I saw left me trembling. Children’s bodies were being carried through what used to be a street, as preparations began for their Islamic funerals. That’s when I saw a father carrying his son to be buried. I took a photograph from behind, as he slowly walked to his child’s final resting place.

Memorial for school shooting victims, Texas, US

Christopher Lee/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Memorial for school shooting victims, Texas, US

30 May I was in Texas when I received a mid-morning call from an editor: there had been a shooting in a small town – Uvalde, a place I know well – maybe 90 minutes drive from me. I was one of the first photographers to arrive. At Robb elementary school, 21 people had been killed; there was tension and tragedy in the air. It’s a small community, so for most locals the press presence was overwhelming. The pain was being felt way beyond the town, with support pouring in from all over.

This picture was taken a week later. In the centre of the town’s main square is a park and fountain. Aside from the school, this became the main memorial site where people came to pay their respects. It started with a few candles, but grew pretty rapidly. I wanted the memorial to be the focus of this image, while also expressing so many people passing through. That is captured, I hope, in the image’s movement. It also shows how the nation’s attention quickly fades. This shooting happened less than two weeks after the one in Buffalo, which saw 10 people killed. When the press arrived to report on this, the last victims from Buffalo hadn’t even been buried.

Amjad Ali Laghari in a flooded mosque, Pakistan

Gideon Mendel: Fire/Flood exhibition in the Soho Photographers Quarter at The Photographers’ Gallery, supported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Amjad Ali Laghari in a flooded mosque, Pakistan

23 September I travelled to Pakistan five weeks after the floods hit the country. I don’t want to arrive at the peak of an emergency and get in the way, so I tend to arrive a little later to document the aftermath.

This was my first day of shooting after arriving in Sindh province. We had a boat, to allow us to reach flooded villages. In one village – Goth Bawal Khan – most properties were empty, but we found two men camped out on the roof of a house. One of them was this man: Amjad Ali Laghari. The water in his house was too deep for us to stand in, so we travelled by boat to the village mosque together. After he retrieved the holy books that had survived, I took his portrait. The symmetry of the arch and the reflection below is geometric – it creates a sense of disturbing beauty that is hard to look away from.

Newlyweds celebrate among the ruins of Kharkiv, Ukraine

Sergey Bobok/AFP

Newlyweds celebrate among the ruins of Kharkiv, Ukraine)

3 April I’ve remained at home in Kharkiv since the war began, along with my family. I’ve worked in combat zones before, but this was different – people being killed on the streets of my city.

In the photo we see Anastasia Grachova and Anton Sokolov – both work in healthcare. During the first days of the invasion, they treated the people who remained. Then they became volunteers and helped provide needy residents with medicine. They had been dating for two years, but Anton had proposed in late February. Their wedding ceremony took place at the university metro station, which was being used as a shelter. The photoshoot was held among the destroyed buildings in the city centre.

This photo is about love – our desire to be close in times of danger. I saw it again and again in Kharkiv: parents hiding their children from bombing; neighbours helping each other; a doctor who lived in the hospital for two weeks to help as many victims as possible. But this is also a photograph about the perseverance and invincibility of Kharkiv residents, despite death, destruction and huge losses.

A chorus of babies at Glyndebourne, UK

Robbie Jack/Corbis/Getty Images

A chorus of babies at Glyndebourne, UK

1 August I’ve been going to Glyndebourne, in east Sussex, since 1993, and over the decades I’ve probably photographed 100 of its productions. I’m usually invited to shoot a rehearsal close to curtain up, in the main auditorium. There was an opera double bill: first was Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias. I’d never photographed this show before. It has a bizarre story, involving thousands upon thousands of babies. There’s almost an optical illusion at play – it’s better left unexplained, I think.

I’ve photographed more than 1,000 operas now, but Covid was devastating. Primarily in taking lives, of course, but also for what it did to arts and culture. For me, theatre is medicine. I’ve had my own brush with mortality this year; right now I’m fighting cancer. Still, I left hospital with tubes hanging out so I could photograph Sir Ian McKellen.

A plane drops retardant over a wildfire, California, US

David Swanson/Reuters

A plane drops retardant over a wildfire, Hemet, California, US

7 September In other states, journalists have to stay behind police lines, but in California we’re allowed into the fires. Heading in always feels counterintuitive – you’re going directly towards danger. On my first day at this Fairview fire in Hemet, there had been two fatalities. By day two, there were more resources on hand. I found a spot on a hill, looking out at a neighbourhood at risk, watching smaller planes and helicopters paint a retardant line to stop the fire consuming the buildings. Then just over the burning ridge line, this huge tanker plane made its way past us.

Science tells us what climate breakdown means. Seeing it up close, so close to home, is really alarming.

Jared Leto and Alessandro Michele at the Met Gala, New York, US

Krista Schlueter/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Jared Leto and Alessandro Michele at the Met Gala, New York

2 May Usually I shoot the Met Gala afterparties; this was my first time on the actual red carpet. I like to roam, getting up close and personal with people. Here, that wasn’t possible. The carpet looks big on TV and in pictures, but it’s actually tiny. Lots of us were crammed in, making it more claustrophobic than glamorous. It’s chaotic, too – multiple celebrities in front of you at the exact same moment. They’re everywhere, and you don’t always have time to work out what is happening. Still, I knew Jared Leto and Alessandro Michele right away, although who was who, I wasn’t certain. I always look forward to Alessandro’s appearances – he always brings quirkiness and humour. I like it when people bring some lightness to these events: it’s easy to forget it’s a party.

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