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The defining photos of 2017 were of protest

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photos of resistance and affirmation defined 2017.
  • Johnny Simon
By Johnny Simon

Deputy Photo Editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Public squares, airports, football stadiums, the halls of Congress. In 2017, they’re all just places to protest.

This year, demonstrations erupted in US airports in response to a ban on travelers from majority Muslim countries, and football players knelt in impromptu protest of racial inequality at games. Massive anti-government rallies filled avenues in Caracas and Barcelona, and women walked anatomical iconography through Washington, DC.

How do photographers document the magnitude of such mass protests, while also showing the emotion that inspires individuals to take to the street? It’s not enough to just document an event, says Pancho Bernasconi, editorial chief at Getty Images. Photographers need “a sense of empathy, visually” to show the dynamic underlying collective action.

“You don’t just want a photograph that is visual evidence that the photographer was there,” he explains “The best photographs have layers. Are there multiple people you can see, and feel their emotions?”

While some images of the past year’s protests stunned through sheer scale (the Women’s March in DC dwarfing Donald Trump’s inauguration), intimate close-ups proved more indelible than crowd shots this year. (Take, for example, the viral photo of two children of different faiths, protesting side-by-side at an airport with their fathers.)

The pictures below show the enduring power of collective demonstration in a particularly fractious moment. As media, community and entertainment are increasingly digitized, a real-life gathering of people can feel genuinely revolutionary. While 100,000 retweets and a digital petition might be easy to ignore, a mass of bodies is undeniable.


Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A protester takes a picture while holding a sign that reads “IMPEACH” in downtown Washington following the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Protesters walk during the Womens March on Washington, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Demonstrators protest President Donald Trump’s executive order which imposes a freeze on admitting refugees into the United States and a ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries at the international terminal at O’Hare Airport on Jan. 29 in Chicago, Ill.
Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Muslim Americans pray at JFK Airport as a protest against President Donald J. Trump’s executive order banning entry of 7 Muslim-majority countries of admission and visas for 90 days in Queens, New York on Feb. 3, 2017.
Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Protesters hold candles as they celebrate the impeachment of South Korea’s ousted leader Park Geun-hye at a rally in Seoul, South Korea on March 11.
EPA/Cem Turkel
Protesters shout slogans during a rally against the referendum results in Istanbul, Turkey on April 18. Turkish President Erdogan won a narrow lead of the ‘Yes’ vote in unofficial results on April 17. The proposed reform, would change the country’s parliamentarian system of governance into a presidential one, which the opposition denounced as giving more power to Turkish President Erdogan.
Federico Parra/AFP/Getty
Opposition activists march along Francisco Fajardo highway, during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on May 10, 2017.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Protestors gather at a demonstration and concert calling for direct presidential elections on May 28, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Anti-fascist counter-protesters wait outside Emancipation Park as white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” are forced out after the “Unite the Right” rally was declared an unlawful gathering on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
David Ramos/Getty Images
People march during a demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on Sept. 11, in Barcelona, Spain.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Members of the Indianapolis Colts stand and kneel for the national anthem prior to the start of the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 24
Brian Blanco/Getty Images
A man wearing a shirt with swastikas on it is punched by an unidentified member of the crowd near the site of a planned speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer on Oct. 19 in Gainesville, Florida.
Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
A protester is removed by a Capitol Hill police officer during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the latest Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in Washington on Sept. 25.
Reuters/Anton Vaganov
Interior Ministry officers detain a participant of an opposition protest, calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin not to run for another presidential term next year, in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 29.
Reuters/Lawrence Bryant
Protesters stage a “die-in” during a peaceful rally outside the police headquarters after the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, in St. Louis, Missouri,on Sept. 17, 2017.
AP Photo/Emrah Gurel
A supporter of the ‘no’ vote lights a flare during a protest in Istanbul, against the referendum outcome, Monday, April 17, 2017. Turkey’s main opposition party urged the country’s electoral board Monday to cancel the results of a landmark referendum that granted sweeping new powers to Erdogan, citing what it called substantial voting irregularities.

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