“I Don’t Think There’s Been a Bigger News Year Since 1968”

From a Times Insider column by Adriana Balsamo headlined “Pictures of a Year Like No Other”:

The first photo that appears in The Year in Pictures, The New York Times’s annual celebration and review of photography, was taken on Jan 1. Just seconds into 2020, in the heart of Times Square, the photographer Calla Kessler captured what was likely the first New Year’s photo of a same-sex couple kissing to be printed on the front page of The Times.

Nearly every editor and writer who worked on The Year in Pictures had the same reaction to the celebratory scene in the frame: “These people had no idea what was coming.”

We had no idea what was coming.

The year began with a mysterious respiratory ailment in Wuhan, China, and President Trump’s impeachment trial. Late in the spring, the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests and civil unrest gripped the nation. Wildfires and hurricanes devastated parts of the United States. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and Amy Coney Barrett joined the Supreme Court. Joseph R. Biden Jr. became the first candidate to defeat an incumbent in a presidential election since 1992, and Kamala Harris is the first woman elected to serve as vice president. Along the way, Kobe Bryant and John Lewis died. The coronavirus continues unabated in the United States.

“I don’t think there’s been a bigger news year since 1968,” Dean Baquet, The Times’s executive editor, said in a planning meeting.

The Year in Pictures was published online this week and appears in Sunday’s newspaper. Even in an ordinary year, the project is a huge undertaking that calls on talent from across the newsroom. Dozens of printed proofs would have lined the floors and walls in the office while a group of designers and editors hovered, moving photos and pages around.

With the majority of the newsroom working remotely this year, however, designers and editors debated these details over videocalls, squinting at layouts on screens and 8.5-by-11-inch pages from household printers. . . .

Perhaps no two people were as close to this Year in Pictures than Jeffrey Henson Scales and David Furst, the lead photo editors of the Opinion and the International desks, respectively. In recent months, Mr. Furst and Mr. Henson Scales, who helped lead the project, reviewed around half a million published and unpublished photographs. . . .

“The areas that The Times covered, it covered them really strongly,” Mr. Henson Scales said. On an average day, Times photographers file 1,000 to 1,500 photographs.

“I don’t know that I have ever come across a body of work that’s as complicated as this one,” Mr. Furst said.

In addition to an introduction written by Mr. Baquet, the project includes pictures woven with firsthand accounts from photographers, who provide behind-the-camera context. That feature was first used in 2019. This year, it was especially important to read what went into the work, Mr. Furst said. There are always photographers around the world living the story they cover — under oppressive governments, or in residential neighborhoods that turn into battlefields of war — but in 2020, everyone lived it. . . .

When asked what he wants readers to feel, Mr. Henson Scales responded: “It was a long year, filled with heroics. And thus far, we’ve made it through. Be glad of that.”

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