In September of this year, Facebook censored—and quickly reinstated—the iconic 1972 photograph of a nude, nine-year-old girl fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph is a defining image of the horrors of the war and a catalyst for Western opposition. Throughout history, images such as Napalm Girl, as the image has come to be known, have emerged as powerful emblems of major news events and social and political movements, giving a voice—and often a face—to struggles or injustices that words sometimes can’t muster.
As a challenging year winds to a close, some have suggested that the first rule of 2017 is not to talk about 2016. But in parsing the last 12 months—the refugee crisis, the United States presidential election, ISIS, Standing Rock—a number of photographs emerge that will live on long after the turn of the year. At their most impactful, these images capture a candid moment that expresses a profound facet of the human condition, distilling complex emotion, or the ethos of an entire movement or event, into a single frame. These images capture juxtapositions of power; they foster empathy, activism, and rage; they stoke our endurance, fuel our urge to fight, or catalyze peace. And while we might not talk about 2016, we’ll remember it in these eight pictures.