2021 Year in Review – The Best Of.

This is the IMAGO 2021 Year In Review. Made up of visual highlights and defining moments from the past 12 months, we showcase the year's inspiring stories, untold moments and captivating movements for change from exciting international photographers.

After an infamously stagnant yet biting 2020, this year saw surges of all kinds: Sports fans rushed to Tokyo for the Olympics and London for the European Cup. Concerts and cultural events were back. Wildfires, volcanos, floods and tornadoes covered headlines. Covid-19 cases along with vaccine rollouts surged as variants of the virus emerged. With currently the most refugees worldwide since World War II according to the UNHCR, there were new waves this year, many of which coming from Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and Mexico. Thousands are stuck at the U.S. – Mexico border as well as the border between Belarus and Poland, while boats continue to appear on Europe’s shores with a devastating record 27 migrants who drowned in the English Channel in November. 

Social movements picked up after a year of restrictions from anti-vaccine protests worldwide, Pro-Democracy demands in places like Hong Kong, Myanmar and Thailand, and abortion rights in The United States and Poland. Rioters stormed the Capitol in Washington DC, gay pride parades returned and the Black Lives Matter movement had a short moment of victory upon the sentencing of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd. Climate change activism saw a surge with Greta Thunberg as the leading figure and COP26 as the cherry on top. Solidarity-protests for Palestine, Afghanistan, Cuba and Myanmar, anti-corruption in Eastern Europe and a rise in right-wing movements, were all part of the 2021 spectacle. 

2021 was also eventful for democracy. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took office in the United States after four years of Donald Trump, while Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was replaced by Olaf Scholz and a liberal coalition after her 16-year run. Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi was recently sentenced to prison as the military coup has shaken the country. Hong Kong begins a new reality under China after being autonomous since 1997. Chile is undergoing the most revolutionary elections since Pinochet with a new draft of its constitution underway. Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won this year’s elections yet again in his 22nd year in power, with a rising opposition and Alexy Navalny’s imprisonment furthering a rift in Russia’s political stability.

IMAGO being home to the daily influx of photos from across the globe documenting the moments and people that shape our current climate, take a look at some of the shots that stood out from the bunch. 

IMAGO / Thomas Hengge
IMAGO / Thomas Hengge — A Donald Trump supporter rinsing teargas from his eyes during the storm on the United States Capitol in Washington DC.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Jerry Holt– Attorney Ben Crump, Rev. Al Sharpton and Brandon Williams, nephew of George Floyd, took a knee for 8:46 a.m. at the Hennepin County Government Center at the start of the Derek Chauvin murder case on March 29, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

IMAGO / NurPhoto
IMAGO / NurPhoto / Majdi Fathi — A Palestinian barber works next to the ruins of buildings and shops destroyed by Israeli strikes, in Gaza City.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / David Talukdar — A municipality worker exhausted after final cremations of those who died from COVID-19 in Guwahati, India.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Peerapon Boonyakiat — A protester sprays water at police using a water toy gun during a Pro-Democracy demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Ty O’Neil — Wildfires raging in California’s Tahoe basin. California has been in a suffocating drought causing fires to break out across the state over the years.

IMAGO / Pacific Press Agency
IMAGO / Pacific Press Agency / Vincenzo Noletto — A whale was found dead in the port of Sorrento in Naples, Italy in January.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Tayfun Salci — London Trans Pride march 2021.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Kaung Zaw Hein — Mandalay, Myanmar: A detained protester raises a three finger salute from inside a police vehicle after police cracked down on the military coup protesters.

IMAGO / UPI Photo / SGT. Victor Mancilla — UK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and U.S. Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Elena Di Vincenzo — The legendary singer known as Patti Smith performs in Italy and goes back on tour after 40 years.

IMAGO / PanoramiC
IMAGO / PanoramiC / J B Autissier — Alexander Zverev of Germany at the Rolex Paris Masters. Zverev made history this year by defeating the world’s number one Novac Djokovic in the Tokyo Olympics, and recently beat him again in the ATP Tour in Turin.

IMAGO / IP3press
IMAGO / IP3Press / Aurelien Morissard — Protesters against the Covid-19 vaccine in Paris, France.

IMAGO / ITAR TASS / Sergei Bobylev — Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko poses for a selfie with a migrant by the Bruzgi Transport and Logistics Centre.

IMAGO / NurPhoto
IMAGO / NurPhoto / Giuseppe Maffia — Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma of Italy looks on during the European Cup 2022. Donnarumma helped bring Italy to victory during penalty shootouts in the final match against England.

IMAGO / NurPhoto
IMAGO / NurPhoto / Anusak Laowilas — Medical worker inspecting an unhoused Covid-19 patient in Bangkok, Thailand.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Charles M. Vella — Extinction Rebellion’s silent Black-Rebels pose in silence during the demonstration in The Hague, Netherlands.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Raquel Natalicchio — Acuna, Coahuila De Zaragoza, Mexico: Migrants cross back and forth from Mexico to the U.S.

IMAGO / Bildbyran
IMAGO / Bildbyran / Vegard Grott — Norwegian women’s national football team during a training session in Yerevan, Armenia.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Ellan Lustosa — Military personnel sanitize Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro before tourism restrictions are loosened. Brazil was one of the countries hit the hardest with the Covid19 Pandemic with over 600,000 deaths.

IMAGO / Agencia EFE
IMAGO / Agencia EFE / Carlos de Saa — Volcanic eruption in Laguna mountain from the village of El Paso in La Palma island, Canary Islands, 23 September.

IMAGO / Claudio Abarca Sandoval
IMAGO / Claudio Abarca Sandova — Wounds by police pellets during a protest in Santiago de Chile. The protests fighting the wealth-gap and corruption brought on revolutionary elections since Pinochet, and a re-drafting of the constitution.

IMAGO / photothek
IMAGO / photothek — Angela Merkel leaving one of her final meetings as Chancellor of Germany on the 18 of November.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Ahmed Zakot — Palestinian paramedics practice yoga on a beach during the International Day of Yoga on the 21 of June in Gaza City.

IMAGO / UPI Photo / Michael Reynolds — U.S. President Joe Biden addressing the press by the White House in Washington DC.

IMAGO / Xinhua
IMAGO / Xinhua / Saifurahman Safi — A boy riding a horse in December by the Qargha lake in Kabul, Afghanistan.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Mahmoud Issa — A Palestinian vaccinator prepares to give a dose of the Sputnik-V Covid-19 vaccine in Gaza City as cases surge. Although Israel was a leader in vaccinations starting in December of 2020, it allowed vaccines for Palestinians in March of 2021.

IMAGO / Future Image
IMAGO / Future Image / C.Hardt — A flooded highway in Erftstadt, Germany. The flash-floods were the worst natural disaster in Germany since 1962 and killed at least 184 people in July.

IMAGO / Hindustan Times
IMAGO / Hindustan Times / Sameer Sehgal — A Sikh devotee takes a holy dip in the sarovar during Basant Panchami celebrations at the Gurudwara Chheharta Sahib Shrine in Amritsar, India.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Aleksander Kalka — Protests in January after the Polish constitutional tribunal published the ruling that makes abortion in case of severe faetus malformation illegal. Warsaw, Poland.

IMAGO / ITAR TASS / Sergei Bobylev — A child playing on a makeshift swing at the Bruzgi Transport and Logistics Centre in Belarus where migrants are being held. Thousands are stuck at the border with Poland as they try to enter the EU.

IMAGO / SNA / Pavel Bednyakov — Damian Lopez Alfonso of Cuba cycles in the rain during the men’s C1-3 cycling road race at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

IMAGO / ITAR-TASS / Mikhail Metzel — Vladimir Putin at the Victory Day military parade on May 9 marking the 76th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. Moskow, Russia.

IMAGO / HochZwei
IMAGO / HochZwei — Max Verstappen racing at the F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi before becoming the Formula 1 champion on the 12 of December.

Words and image selection by Columnist, Sofia Bergmann. Browse all our IMAGO 2021 highlights here.