Forgive the title, but I think to describe 2020 in any less a way would minimize just what a year this has been. We started it full of optimism for what the next decade would bring us, unaware we’d get what feels like an entire decade crammed into one tumultuous, chaotic year. You could say this year has been a roller coaster, but roller coasters are supposed to be fun. This roller coaster went off the rails, crashed into a ditch and blew up.
A virus that effectively shut down the world and has killed millions while continuing to affect the lives of countless in ways both large and small. A murder of yet another innocent African American at the hands of the police that shook the nation and ignited a Summer of protests against systemic racism. A Presidential election that lasted a week and a defeated President who continues to deny that he actually lost.
Amidst all of this we’ve lived our lives, watching endless amounts of Netflix , having countless conversations over zoom and spending time on hobbies both new and old. It’s been a time to be alive, and now that we’re at the end of the year, with vaccines beginning to be distributed and finally seeing light at the end of this long, dark tunnel, here’s a look at 2020 through my lens.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to become more involved with photographing politics, beginning with covering the Democratic Primary in South Carolina. I figured that the 2020 Presidential election would be my focus this year. Boy was I wrong!
As the virus swept the country and shutdowns sporadically began, its effects were obvious across town. Spring time is popular in DC. The temperature is warm without the oppressive humidity of Summer. Streets that would normally be filled witch college students were suddenly silent. The national mall which would normally be teeming with thousands of tourists was more empty than I’ve ever seen it. Areas of nightlife like Adams Morgan, H St NE and U Street were deserted on weekends. Despite this, it was amazing to see all of the ways that people continued to stay upbeat and show support for one another amidst social distancing, whether that was drive-by graduations, front porch concerts or group video chat happy hours. I think one silver lining is that all of us realized how important the relationships in our lives are more than ever before.
After the murder of George Floyd, protests erupted across the country, including in DC. The very first weekend saw marches throughout downtown that would end at the Northern edge of Lafayette Square, where the scene turned from tense to chaotic after the sun went down. Protesters repeatedly pressed forward against secret service and police in riot gear, only to be pushed back and scattered by volleys of tear gas, flash bangs, pepper spray and rubber bullets. The protesters would quickly regroup and return the favor with volleys of their own-plastic and glass bottles, rocks and bricks taken from the sidewalk and broken into pieces. Fireworks were thrown indiscriminately into the mix; exploding at consistent intervals throughout the night. This back and forth went on into the early morning hours that weekend. Mayor Bowser would enact a curfew that Monday (the same day President Trump tear gassed peaceful protesters so he could have his photo op) which would go largely ignored, leading to a mass arrest after police were able to corral a large group of marchers on a one way street. This would all just be the beginning of the many demonstrations to come.
Of all the things that stood out to me immediately surrounding these protests was the incredible level of diversity in the crowds. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these were the most diverse crowds I have ever seen. Black people, white people, asians, latinos, young, old. LGBTQ; people who seemed to have never been moved to join a march for black lives were now doing so in numbers never seen before. It was clear that the murder of George Floyd touched a raw nerve in the United States, not only in the black community but in areas it never has before. Even rural, mostly white areas saw their share of demonstrations, though many of them were met with counterprotests.
Amidst so much of the tumult that I felt covering the ongoing protests, photographing for the the Washington Post’s Where We Live column was a welcome respite. While it felt slightly surreal to go from photographing these protests to situations of every day life, it was a welcome reminder that in many places, life goes on as normally as it can. Kids are still kids and adults find what moments of relaxation and fun that they can. It was also nice to get away for a time to photograph things like the Neowise comet and the fall foliage that envelops West Virginia every year; a place I lived and worked and still hold very close to my heart.
Along with the hundreds of thousands who have needlessly died of Covid-19, We lost a lot of greats this year. Giants of civil rights like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Lewis, Entertainment icons like Alex Trebek and Chadwick Boseman. Legendary athletes like Kobe Bryant and Diego Maradona. Their deaths have consistently felt like rotten cherries on top of all that’s happened this year.
The 2020 Presidential Election was as dramatic of an election as it could possibly be. The night of the election felt like 2016 all over again, and I went to sleep assuming President Trump would be getting a second term. What followed was a week of the nation being glued to their TV’s and phones as results from mail-in ballots trickled in. Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona. I said the names of those states in that week more than I probably have in my entire life. I was on my way out of Philadelphia when my friend called me to say the race had been called for Biden. Turning back around and heading for Independence Mall, people everywhere could be seen cheering and dancing as drivers honked their horns. I stayed for a couple hours to photograph the celebrations before heading back to DC to catch the tail end of the party at Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Predictably, President Trump has refused to accept his defeat, and has relentlessly worked to cast doubt on one of the most pivotal foundations of our democracy; the integrity of our voting process. Many in the country now genuinely believe that President-elect Biden’s victory is not a legitimate outcome, and they’ve shown themselves in DC the last month, with “Million MAGA Marches” attended by followers of President Trump across the country; including notably the Proud Boys, whom Trump tacitly endorsed with his “Stand Back & Stand By” comment during his first presidential debate with Joe Biden. Like it or not, these groups are not going away anytime soon. President Trump may soon be out of power, but he maintains a stranglehold on the Republican Party. Only time will tell how long that will last.
On a more personal note, Of all the most improbable and inexplicable things to happen to me this year, I fell in love with someone. Not only that, but with someone who currently lives on an entirely different continent. Crazy right? We both know it. But after six months of seeing and talking to each other through a screen, we’ll be spending New Years Eve together in Mexico City, and I couldn’t be more excited to leave this year behind and begin the next with her.
2020 will, for better or worse (mostly worse) be a year to remember for all of us. We’ve lived through a truly historic time, and it’s an experience none of us will forget. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the people that I have in my life and for the experiences I have had this year. So long 2020, you can’t end soon enough.