50 Photos That Defined The Past Decade

05/07/2015 09:29 am ET | Updated May 08, 2015

"Photography is the art of frozen time," Meshack Otieno once said, "the ability to store emotion and feelings within a frame."

There is something almost magical about the camera's ability to record a singular moment in space and time, preserving its beauty, capturing its strangeness, or even warning us of its darkness forever. Throughout the past decade, photography has proved itself to be more than just a means of documentation, capturing the invisible as well as the visible, the false as well as the true, the coincidentally miraculous as much as the momentous.


We've created a compilation of 50 photographs that captured the joy, the pain, the beauty and the changes experienced throughout the world in the past decade. The following frozen moments don't begin to accurately summarize the infinite, complex stories that unfolded over the past 10 years. They do, however, provide small glimpses at earth-shattering times, places and people. From the emerald green cloud caused by a flare in Afghanistan to the motivated stare of a 14-year-old protester participating in the Occupy movement, the images serve as small portals to the challenges we've faced and experiences we've shared around the globe:

  • 1 2005
    The dried dam of Pereiras, 275 kilometers south of Lisbon, Portugal, is seen on June 24, 2005. The worst drought in Spain and Portugal since the 1940s fueled inflation and dented economic growth in the country, while in Morocco conditions were so bad the government feared an exodus from rural areas would raise urban unemployment.
  • 2
    (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
    A man walks through the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Sept. 23, 2005. Rain and wind had started to hit New Orleans as Hurricane Rita passed through the Gulf of Mexico just over three weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the region.
  • 3
    (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
    Ida, a 19-year-old polar bear, swims in her pen at the Central Park Zoo on October 12, 2005 in New York City. Conservation groups including Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council had recently announced that they were taking legal action to have the bears listed as "threatened" under America's Endangered Species Act. Due to the continuing disappearance of the Arctic Sea ice, survival of the world's remaining polar bears is increasingly at risk.
  • 4
    (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
    A Sri Lankan boy holds balloons with other children before a balloon release to promote positive thinking about the water, sponsored by the Foundation of Goodness, on Dec. 26, 2005 in Seenigama, Sri Lanka. The Indian Ocean tsunami, which struck Dec. 26, 2004, after an undersea earthquake, impacted 12 countries and killed over 200,000 people, including over 31,000 in Sri Lanka.
  • 5 2006
    (GABRIEL MALAYA/AFP/Getty Images)
    University students clad in colorful flower costumes dance in front of spectators during the celebration of the annual Panagbenga flower festival in the northern mountain resort of Baguio in the Philippines on Feb. 26, 2006. Baguio is considered to be the summer capital of the Philippines.
  • 6
    (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
    A child cries as Palestinian women argue with Israeli soldiers while they try to cross from Abu Dis into East Jerusalem on March 26, 2006. The controversial separation barrier blocked direct access between West Bank and Israel. The wall, Israel claimed, was the most effective tool to keep out Palestinian terrorists ahead of the March 28 general elections.
  • 7
    (Tarko SUDIARNO/AFP/Getty Images)
    Participators who live on the slopes of the Mount Merapi volcano wear colorful outfits and masks during a parade in Yogyakarta, Central Java in Indonesia on June 18, 2006. The parade was meant to show support for victims of the May 27 earthquake. Indonesia's Mount Merapi showed less volcanic activity at this point but scientists warned that it was still extremely dangerous after hot clouds of gas and ash killed two people.
  • 8
    (ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
    Acehnese people stay on top of their homes in the Arakudo subdistrict in Langsa, East Aceh on Dec. 25, 2006. Two years after the devastating tsunami, Indonesia's Aceh province was grappling with more tragedy after floods and landslides killed at least 90 people and left thousands waiting to be rescued.
  • 9 2007
    (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    Thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil on the campus of Virginia Tech on April 17, 2007, in Blacksburg, Virginia. English major Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a native of South Korea, went on a shooting rampage that left a total of 33 people dead. It was the worst mass shooting in US history.
  • 10
    (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
    Children play in the snow in Johannesburg on June 27, 2007. The unexpected snowfall caused disruption in Johannesburg and several other parts of South Africa, forcing some major roads to be closed. A spokeswoman for the South African Weather Service said heavy snow was recorded early in the morning in and around Johannesburg, a rare occurrence even in winter.
  • 11
    (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
    Harry Potter fans prepared to take a steam train from Australia's Sydney Central Station to a secret location for the much anticipated unveiling of the final novel by author J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, on July 21, 2007. The book was the seventh and final novel in the Harry Potter series.
  • 12 2008
    (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
    US Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Senator Barack Obama visits Dooky Chase restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 7, 2008. Obama was in New Orleans ahead of Louisiana's primary on February 9, and said the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- which ravaged the city in 2005 -- was a metaphor for a broken US government.
  • 13
    (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
    A Harp seal pup lies on an ice float on March 31, 2008, in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence near Charlottetown, Canada. During Canada's annual seal hunt the government allowed 275,000 harp seals to be hunted and harvested. Many animal protection organizations have condemned the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans following its announcement.
  • 14
    (Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez-Pool/Getty Images)
    Same-sex couple Del Martin (L) and Phyllis Lyon (R) kiss after they were married by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom in a private ceremony at San Francisco City Hall on June 16, 2008. Martin and Lyon were the first couple to be married in San Francisco as same-sex marriages become legal in California.
  • 15
    (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
    Oil rigs just south of town extract crude for Chevron at sunrise on July 22, 2008 in Taft, California. The image embodies the energy crisis that plagued 2008, when the price of petroleum hit $100 per barrel for the first time.
  • 16 2009
    (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)
    Indian Sikh devotees carry the Palki Sahib (Sikh Holy Book) as they take part in a procession from Sri Akal Takhat at The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, on October 31, 2009, ahead of the 540th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev.
  • 17
    (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
    Exhaust plumes from cooling towers at the Jaenschwalde lignite coal-fired power station on Nov. 24, 2009, in Janschwalde, Germany. The sinister image embodies the impending dangers of CO2 emissions, one of the most urgent environmental issues of the time.
  • 18 2010
    Orang-Utan baby Dodi lays in the arms of his mother Daisy on July 19, 2010, at the zoo in Dresden, eastern Germany. Dodi was born on Nov. 24, 2009, at the zoo. The photo captures a heartwarming moment between mother and son.
  • 19
    The sun sets in a sky dusted with ash over 20 kilometers east of Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano, on May 5, 2010. The Icelandic volcano wreaked havoc on European aviation this year.
  • 20
    (SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)
    Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers march during a graduation ceremony at Ghazi Military Training Center in Kabul on July 15, 2010.
  • 21
    (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
    A laughing gull coated in heavy oil wallows in the surf on June 4, 2010 on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident came ashore in large volumes across the southern Louisiana coastal areas.
  • 22
    (THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images)
    A human skull is observed on a post near a building destroyed by an earthquake on Aug. 25, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
  • 23
    (VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
    A rainbow is seen over the mountains in the Upper Svanti region not far from the town of Mestia, Georgia on Sept. 8, 2010. High in the Caucasus Mountains, a wild landscape of glacier-capped peaks, forested valleys and villages huddled around medieval stone towers has been locked away for centuries. But Georgia's Upper Svaneti region -- one of the highest and most remote settlements in Europe -- has finally been opening up to the outside world. Home to only 14,000 people, Upper Svaneti is a relic of Georgia's ancient culture, a living museum where the locals speak a language that broke off from Georgian 3,000 years ago.
  • 24 2011
    Pieter Hugo
    Photographer Pieter Hugo captures the fractured state of contemporary South Africa in 2011, still wounded with scars of colonialism and Apartheid. His visceral images of strangers blend the personal and political, showing the space between the unique place's idealized culture and its reality.
  • 25
    (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
    A baby Spider Monkey named Estela plays with her grandmother Sonya at Melbourne Zoo in Australia on May 6, 2011. Estela was abandoned at birth by her mother Sunshine, and it took 24/7 care from Primate Department Keepers to pull the tiny newborn through.
  • 26
    (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
    Frankie Hughes, 14, a protestor affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, demonstrates outside the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters on Dec. 29, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa. Thirteen people were arrested during the protest.
  • 27 2012
    Carl Court/ AFP/Getty Images
    Sotheby's employees pose with Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's 1895 pastel on board version of 'The Scream' at Sotheby's auction house in central London on April 12, 2012. On May 2, 2012, the work sold for $120 million, becoming -- at the time -- the most expensive artwork in the world.
  • 28
    (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GettyImages)
    People walk a path beneath a giant rock on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles on July 13, 2012. The 340-ton granite boulder forms the center of the sculpture "Levitated Mass," by artist Michael Heizer, who conceived of the idea in 1969 and spent many years looking for the right rock.
  • 29
    (SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/GettyImages)
    Supporters dance during a religious function organized by Indian yoga Guru Baba Ramdev (unseen) in Ahmedabad in India on Aug. 8, 2012.
  • 30
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Flickr)
    On Aug. 31, 2012, a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the Sun's atmosphere, the Corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT. This photo appeared on NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Flickr account.
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