Over the past year, people around the globe endured epic, historic storms — literally and metaphorically — and were often left wondering, like countless generations before, whether the clouds would ever break. Peering through the dark lens of armed conflict, natural disasters and unfathomable barbarity in places as far-flung as Connecticut and Kandahar, we’ve all — at one time or another — wondered if the tide of catastrophe was, finally, simply going to overwhelm us.
As we approach 2013, it’s only natural that we look for glimmers of promise. Next August, for example, the United States will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech — an event and an eloquence so central to a nation’s ideas of what it can be and should be that, in celebrating the memory of that day, we embrace the notion that united, we can overcome any new adversity.
Here, LightBox presents a series of images from 2012 that are joined in theme and in import by a slim yet powerfully symbolic thread: a rainbow connection. As we envision what the coming year might bring, and how we might do better as individuals and as a culture in 2013, we pause to celebrate the fleeting emblem of peace that was seen and photographed in unexpected, incongruous places — scenes that many of us no doubt missed in the welter of the past year’s violence and sorrow.
It is not what’s at the end of the rainbow that counts; we know, in our hearts, that there’s nothing there at all. But taking a moment, now and in the future, to acknowledge the rainbow’s fleeting beauty costs nothing, and there’s never any harm in hope.
The photographer Robert Nickelsberg has been making trips to Afghanistan since 1988. His new book-length project, "A Distant War," goes past the current, seemingly intractable American invasion to show how a nation has been beleaguered by decades of almost perpetual conflict.
Originally conceived as a fund-raiser for Joao Silva, "Conflict Zone" - which opens in New York on Friday - has become a collaborative effort to show the humanity in war. The New York show is dedicated to Chris Hondros, who believed in photographing shared human experiences.
The New Year began violently in Afghanistan, with three bombings killing 13 people in one day in Kandahar. In addition, the French Defense minister told soldiers he backed US efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, and President Obama was in talks about defense priorites as the US military readied for challenges from China and Iran while downplaying any future counterinsurgency efforts like the ones in Afghanistan or Iraq. Meanwhile, the foreign troop withdrawal process continued, as more responsibility was transferred to Afghan security forces. The goal is a complete withdrawal by the end of 2014. -- Lloyd Young (41 photos total)
Afghan policemen march during the transfer of authority from NATO troops to Afghan security forces in Chaghcharan, Ghor province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Jan. 4. The security responsibilities of Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor province is handed over from the NATO forces to Afghan security forces. The process of taking over security from over 130,000-strong NATO-led ISAF forces by Afghan troops would be completed by the end of 2014 when Afghanistan will take over the full leadership of its own security duties from US and NATO forces. (Hoshang Hashimi/Associated Press)
The United States and allied forces have been in Afghanistan for over ten years, an occupation that approaches the 2014 deadline for a full withdrawal of those forces. As the transition draws closer, problems with security, the economy, and cultural mores are growing even more apparent. Included in this monthly look at Afghanistan are images that highlight these issues, as well as images that point to a more hopeful future. The activist group YoungWomen4Change prepares posters demanding women's rights even as the horrific torture of 15-year-old Sahar Gul, who refused her husband's family's demands that she become a prostitute, came to light. Also included here are images of another Afghan girl, 12-year-old Tarana Akbari, who witnessed the terrible suicide bombing in Kabul that killed at least 80 Shiites during observances of the Ashura holiday. The bombing has raised fears of renewed sectarian violence. -- Lane Turner (37 photos total)
A man feeds pigeons in front of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, or Blue Mosque, in Mazar-e-Sharif on December 22, 2011. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
LYING DOWN ON THE JOB: Special Police Officers lay on a road Wednesday in Guwahati, India, during a protest to demand the renewal of their job contracts. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
TOUGH CROWD? Globe Manufacturing Company employees Shirley Smith, left, and Pat Dexter listened as former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. spoke at their plant in Pittsfield, N.H., Wednesday. The company makes equipment for firefighters. (Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
RAY OF HOPE: Willie Stacy, a homeless 19-year-old, tried to keep warm in the sun outside a Red Cross shelter in West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday. (Gary Coronado/The Palm Beach Post/Associated Press)
SCENE OF THE CRIME: Police officers inspected the scene of an explosion in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Wednesday. Three bomb blasts rocked the city Tuesday, killing at least 13 people. (Jangir/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
PUT TO THE TEST: Australia’s Ricky Ponting dived on day two of the second cricket test against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground Wednesday. He scored his first century in nearly two years. (Greg Wood/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
SEEING WITH HIS HANDS: A man read using the Braille system at Sai Junior College for the Blind in Hyderabad, India, Wednesday. Jan. 4, 2012, marked the 203rd birth anniversary of the inventor of the system, Louis Braille. (Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
The best photos of 2011 from around the globe. Warning: All images in this entry are shown in full, not screened out for graphic content. Some images contain dead bodies, graphic content and tragic events. We consider these images an important part of human history.
As a photographer based in Kabul for Agence France-Presse, Massoud Hossaini has seen violence in the past. But never, he said, like the scene he saw Tuesday in Kabul.
Farzana Wahidy, a photographer based in Afghanistan, is working on a project about the daily lives of Afghan women. Ms. Wahidy, who was inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, is the latest young photographer to be featured on Turning Point.
On the final day of a two-week embed, German photographer Johannes Eisele writes about his intimate, close-up images of the casualties of war. These photographs were taken during his first time in the war zone with the medevac helicopter teams in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan National Police serviceman, wounded from an improvised explosive device, is brought to a waiting ambulance after he was flown in by Medevac helicopter of 159th Brigade Task Force Thunder to the Kandahar hospital Role 3 on August 20, 2011.
I arrived in Afghanistan on Aug. 13, unsure of the story that awaited me and with no expectation or hopes of what I would be able to document there. For two weeks I was based at Forward Operating Base Pasab, Kandahar, where all the medevac missions start. After I saw the amount of pain and suffering that goes with these missions, I decided I wanted to convey these cruelties of war in my pictures.
Sometimes the radio would come on and wake us up. Just the words “medevac, medevac, medevac” would make us run to the helicopters, and we were on our way again. In the second week, the medevac picked up 34 patients—but every day was different. Sometimes there was one mission after another, and then the next day, there would be a single patient in need.
Within a war zone, the job of medevac soldiers is one of the most humane. Working in adverse conditions and often facing the most hopeless of situations, the soldiers continually show humanity and poise as they strive to do everything they can to help their patients.
Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images
US soldiers gather near a destroyed vehicle and protect their faces from rotor wash, as their wounded comrades are airlifted by a Medevac helicopter from the 159th Brigade Task Force Thunder to Kandahar Hospital Role 3, on August 23, 2011.
There are two places where the medevacs bring their casualties, the first being Kandahar Hospital Role 3. This is where all U.S. soldiers go and where they bring local nationals with head injuries as well as children under the age of 13. The second place is Kandahar Hospital Hero, an Afghan-run unit where all the other Afghans are treated. But at Role 3, medics and doctors are always on hand to take care of patients, whereas Hospital Hero is badly equipped and where I got the feeling that many of the staff had given up hope to help, even as new patients arrived.
I was surprised by the number of wounded civilians the medevac picked up in a matter of weeks, most of them injured by an improvised explosive devise (IED). The exceptions were two Afghan children who had been shot in the stomach and one young man who was shot in the leg. But somehow, none of them seemed to cry.
There were also the U.S. casualties, many of whom I documented close up. One soldier was taken from a U.S. vehicle, destroyed by an IED, into a packed helicopter (two medics, two pilots, one crew chief, two other wounded soldiers and me). The soldier’s legs were all badly wounded. While two were asking for water, the third put his hands together as if in prayer.
Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images
Two Afghan soldiers, shot in their legs by suspected insurgents, lie in a medevac helicopter of 159th Brigade Task Force Thunder during a flight to a hospital in Kandahar on August 17, 2011.
It can be a really strange feeling, having a badly wounded person covered with blood and dust carried right in front of you. Considering that I’m writing this on the last day of my embed, I find it hard to express these thoughts. I’m still processing them myself.
Johannes Eisele began as a photojournalist at the age of 19. He worked for a local newspaper and then for German news wire agencies ddp and dpa. Four years ago he joined Reuters, and for the past 18 months he has been a staff photographer with Agence France-Presse (AFP). He covered the Athens Olympics in 2004, the 2006 World Cup and the G8 Summit riots in Heiligendamm. Eisele is based in Berlin.
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