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The pictures that define 2016

For better or worse, these are the moments

The pictures that define 2016
22 December 2016

2016: bit of a mixed bag all in all.

Yes, there was geopolitical turmoil, all your favourite celebrities are now deceased, and Donald Trump is likely to start World War Three, but, hey, wasn’t Glasto fun? And how about that iguana chase on Planet Earth II?

Either way, we won’t be forgetting the last 12 months in a hurry, and to make sure of just that we’ve teamed up with the good folk of Getty Images to encapsulate the year’s biggest moments in stunning detail. Hugh Pinney, VP News at Getty, talks us through the photography.

January – David Bowie dies

Photographer: John Phillips

“The announcement of David Bowie’s death in January took the world by surprise, especially as it came just days after the equally surprising launch of his final album Blackstar. His original stomping ground of Brixton was brought to a standstill, with crowds singing long into the night.”

February – The war in Syria

Credit: Anadolu Agency

“Though Syria has been in turmoil since 2011, the situation in Aleppo has reached peak atrocity this year. Rebel forces, Russian forces, Syrian forces, ISIS forces and coalition forces, all battling for influence in a sickening game of three-dimensional chess which ultimately looks likely to render the city - thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on earth - to nothing but rubble. The shockwave from the tank firing has given this image the most extraordinary ‘painterly’ quality - a moment of extreme violence rendered unexpectedly beautiful.”

April – Prince found dead in Paisley Park studios

Credit: Time & Life Pictures

“Too soon after the death of one music icon - David Bowie - the world was shocked in April by the sudden death of recording artist Prince. He died at his home and recording complex, Paisley Park, Minneapolis, not half an hour from where he was born 57 years previously. Prince became a household name in the 1980s and the world mourned the loss of one its most flamboyant and talented stars of recent times. He is seen here in a signature pose, cupping his ear as he listens to an audience singing his lyrics back to him.”

June – Trump’s campaign trail

Photographer: Gerardo Mora

“Trump’s election victory was the second time this year everyone woke to news which defied the forgone conclusion of the previous evening. Perhaps pundits should have paid more attention to this image and what it symbolised. This simple act of hugging the flag summed up Trump’s message to those who felt entirely disenfranchised by the rest of the Washington political class, and clearly it resonated - way beyond the reach of most pollsters.”

June – Brexit

Photpgrapher: Glyn Kirk

“Victory in the face of defeat. Only hours before this photo was taken Nigel Farage had effectively conceded that the Leave campaign had been beaten, and huge numbers of people were waking up to find that opinion polls have effectively been rendered redundant. Fast forward a few months and you will have a near-identical group shot in a gold elevator with the President-elect of the US.”

June – Boris and Gove accept success

Credit: WPA Pool

“The two main architects of the successful vote Leave campaign address the media on the morning that Brexit became reality. This should have been their opportunity to celebrate, the vindication of the weeks of campaigning and argument – however the body language speaks volumes with each looking more like they are making the eulogy at a funeral. Perhaps the enormity of that which they helped engineer is starting to dawn on each of them.”

July – The Turkish military attempt a coup

Credit: Getty

“This was taken the morning after the extraordinary coup attempt against President Erdogan’s regime in Turkey. In the background you can see civilians beating and punching soldiers who, the night before, had been attempting to impose martial law. The expression on the young soldier’s face tells you everything about what it feels like to have backed the losing side in an event like this – pain, desperation and above all fear of what the future holds.”  

July – Terror attack on Nice

Photographer: Dan Kitwood

“France now has a sad litany of terror attacks that it has had to deal with in recent months.  The use of something as everyday as a truck to commit an act of mass murder during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice demonstrated precisely how hard it is to defend against the lone radicalised extremist. This image of heavily-armed troops patrolling amongst the beach going public is a graphic illustration of both what is at stake – the ability to conduct our lives freely under tight security, and our commitment to do precisely that, and not be bowed by an omnipresent threat from an unseen hand.”

September – Vigilante executions following the rise to power Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Photographer: Dondi Tawatao

Sprawled out like a beaten boxer on a canvas, placard-holding onlookers looking on behind a rope, an unforgiving spotlight shining at the bloody heap, Dondi Tawatao’s snap has echoes of a big fight night at Madison Square Garden. Only it’s far more brutal than any boxing match, of course, capturing the chilly aftermath of the execution of a reported drug dealer in Manila, just one of thousands of victims of vigilante slayings to occur since the coming to power of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, that same hardliner-cum-sociopath who even claims to have killed people with his own hands. It may feel as if we’ve seen endless atrocities carried out across the world this year, but let’s not overlook the constant horror unfolding over in the Philippines. Practially genocide, let’s not look back and ask what we could have done.

Joe Ellison – ShortList online editor

August – Rio Olympics get under way 

Photographer: Mario Tama

“After the traditional months of speculation over whether Rio would be ready and/or fit to host the Olympic Games they got underway in a spectacular blaze of glory. This image brilliantly puts the splendour of the Maracana stadium in the context of the vast economic divide in Brazil, viewed from a hillside favela overlooking the city.”

September – The UN General Assembly hosts a refugee crisis summit

Photographer: Dan Kitwood

“The refugee crisis moved for the most part from the Aegean to the Mediterranean in 2016, with a pattern of bigger boats leaving the coast of North Africa, equally overloaded, often with hundreds more people on board, attempting a much more dangerous sea crossing to reach European shores. It is impossible to look at this trafficking of humanity and avoid comparison with images of slave ships in previous centuries.”

October – Prince George makes headlines

Photographer: Samir Hussein

“Never has a child looked more perfectly tailored to fulfil their destiny than Prince George. He is the absolute definitive picture of a king-in-waiting whenever on public view – which makes me (and the public) love rare moments like this all the more. With his nose squashed against the glass he is doing what every small boy on the planet would do - trying to get a better view of how the heck a float plane works.”

October – The siege of Mosul

Photographer: Carl Court

“When ISIS set fire to oilfields surrounding Mosul, the sky darkened, and images from the siege of the city took on an apocalyptic hue. In this image, the juxtaposition with the youngster on his bright red bike creates a bizarre, yet compelling, tableau. A tiny, brief moment that has little directly to do with the story of the conflict, and yet captures its essence entirely. It’s also a stark contrast of the childhood depicted above (Prince George) and this boy’s.”

November – Theresa May’s tour of India

Photographer: Dan Kitwood

“Official political tours have become the stuff of nightmares for photographers and picture editors. Politicians and their handlers always terrified of risking an image that may be off-message, open to misinterpretation or possibly make them look less than statesmanlike, will seldom risk anything more than the plainest vanilla of photo-opportunities. On Theresa May’s visit to India, it came as the most refreshing of surprises when she broke from the norm and presented us with that rarest of things - a genuinely photogenic photo-op. The resulting pictures were stunning – kudos to the risk-takers.”

Images: Getty Images