Skip to navigationSkip to content
AP/Andrew Harnik
Say cheese.
HINDSIGHT

The photos that mattered to us most in 2015

Caitlin Hu
By Caitlin Hu

Contributor

To mark the end of the year, photo agency AP has rounded up its “most popular, highest-trending, most liked and shared photos posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.” In other words, the images that resonated most across social media in 2015 .

The 146-photo collection reveals a predictable range of events from sports to global crises. But once shuffled into the right order, what’s remarkable about this collection is how often the trending photos overlapped on the same topics, offering multiple perspectives on the year’s most important issues, events, and places.

Now that the year is over, here’s a chance to look at the images that mattered to us most with fresh eyes.

The year began and ended with Paris.

The year began with catastrophe—on Jan. 7, masked gunmen attacked journalists in the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12, and then took hostages in a kosher grocery store. In response, Parisians took to the streets with the slogan “Not Afraid,” wielding pens as symbols of freedom. Months later, on Nov. 13, terrorists attacked again, taking the lives of 130 civilians. Though the Eiffel Tower closed for several days of national mourning, unprecedented demonstrations of solidarity spread across the world.

AP Photo/Thibault Camus
People gather to pay respect for the victims of a terror attack against a satirical newspaper, in Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.
AP/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
A bird flies in front of the Eiffel Tower, which remained closed on Nov. 14 and 15, 2015.

The global refugee crisis became visible…

Civilians displaced by violence, hardship and natural disaster became impossible to overlook this year, as scenes of desperation—particularly at Europe’s closed borders—proliferated, and receiving nations lamented the burden of hospitality.

Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP
Sept. 13, 2015: Migrants walk towards a checkpoint along the railway tracks near the border between Hungary and Serbia.
AP/Muhammed Muheisen
A Syrian refugee child looks out of a bus that will take him and his family to the center for asylum seekers near Roszke, southern Hungary, Sept. 11, 2015.
AP/Bram Janssen
April 15, 2015: A Yazidi woman whispers into the ear of her friend at the Yazidi New Year, at a shrine just 35 miles north of Mosul, Iraq. Thousands of Yazidi have been kidnapped or killed by militants with the Islamic State, and thousands more displaced from their homes.

…catalyzing fierce discussion of cultural values and integration.

AP/Hassan Ammar
This photo was shot through the lowered veil of a niqab, worn by some conservative Muslim women, and shows the Giza Pyramids near Cairo.
AP/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
A Catholic penitent casts his shadow as he takes part in a Holy Week procession in Arcos de la Frontera, Spain.

The power of rainbows was finally revealed.

AP/Jeff Chiu
A large rainbow flag hangs down City Hall in San Francisco, June 26, 2015, following a US Supreme Court ruling that struck down bans on same sex marriage nationwide.
AP/Sofia Jaramillo
July 30, 2015: Hundreds of houses painted in bright colors in what organizers claim is Mexico’s largest mural, is part of a government-sponsored project is called Pachuca Paints Itself, in Pachuca, Mexico.

Anti-government protests around the world continued…

AP/Belal Darder
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood gather in Cairo, Egypt, to protest the 20-year sentence for ousted president Mohammed Morsi on April 24, 2015. Morsi was convicted of using force against protesters during the Arab Spring in 2011.
AP/Jerome Delay
A demonstrator blows his whistle in Bujumbura, Burundi, on May 6, 2015, during anti-government demonstrations sparked by the constitutional court’s validation of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term.

…and in Ukraine fueled civil war. 

AP/Vadim Ghirda
A Russia-backed separatist fighter sits in a self propelled 152 mm artillery piece, near Donetsk, Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2015.
AP/Evgeniy Maloletka
Ukrainian servicemen put their dogs under the jackets to keep them warm in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Jan. 28, 2015.

Animals continued to capture hearts and minds.

AP/Andrew Harnik
A May 3, 2015 photo shows US Secretary of State John Kerry taking a selfie with a baby elephant in Nairobi, Kenya.
AP/Koji Ueda
July 13, 2015: An Asian elephant swims a 65-meters long pool at Fuji Safari Park in Susono, at the foot of Mt. Fuji, southwest of Tokyo.

Sports pictures, less so.

AP/Aaron Favila
Filipinos play basketball in floodwaters from a swollen creek at a coastal village in Malabon, north of Manila, Philippines, on July 8, 2015. Typhoon Chan-Hom has enhanced the seasonal monsoon.
AP/Felipe Dana
Rafael Nadal of Spain eyes a ball at the quarter-finals match of the Rio Open tennis tournament against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Feb. 21, 2015.

We shared images from the ends of the Earth…

AP/Dieu Nalio Chery
Sept. 27, 2015 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The full moon was seen prior to a phenomenon called a “Super Moon” eclipse.
AP/Robert F. Bukaty
Ice extends several feet horizontally from a sign marking the summit of 5,774-foot Mount Adams on Nov. 17, 2015, in New Hampshire, USA.

…but kept a soft spot for neighbors.

It was the 70th anniversary of the war that split North and South Korea, a bitter reminder for the families who can now only reunite during special diplomatic field trips.

AP/Wong Maye-E
Veterans turn toward North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he delivers a speech during a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, Oct. 10, 2015.
AP/Lee Jin-man
In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, members of the South Korean honor guard throw their guns in the air.

Faith and community remained central to the human experience…

The Vatican’s Pope Francis built his brand this year, with a fiery encyclical letter calling for action on climate change, a new book, a rock album, and several historic international visits. During the Muslim hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in September, a crush of believers caused a deadly stampede that left hundreds dead, and many nations pointing their fingers at one another.

AP/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis Pope presides over mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican on April 2, 2015.
AP/Amr Nabil
In this Sept. 9, 2015 photo, Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

…as did the power of nature.

AP/Binsar Bakkara
A farmer tends to his field as Mount Sinabung releases pyroclastic flows in Tiga Pancur, North Sumatra, Indonesia on June 13, 2015.
AP/Mark Schiefelbein, File
In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, an elderly man tosses fallen gingko leaves into the air in a park in Beijing.
Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.