In 2005, multidisciplinary artist Jay Mark Johnson flew to Germany to purchase a very special, very expensive new gadget—a hand-made digital camera capable of capturing 360-degree panoramic images at resolutions as high as 500 megapixels. “It was the hottest thing in the digital world 15 years ago,” Johnson says. “It’s built like a tank, but extremely smooth-running, as high-end German technology can be.” Johnson bought the camera to help create visual effects for Hollywood films—he’s worked on The Matrix, Titanic, and Outbreak—but as he played around with his fancy new toy he started to push the boundaries of what the machine could do.

Those experiments all eventually found their way into Johnson’s Spacetime photography series, which has been widely exhibited and is in the permanent collections of museums around the world. (Images from the series will be on view at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California from February 8 to April 19.) Although Johnson has kept the methods behind the images a secret, the upshot is that by modifying how the German camera operated he was able to sharply render objects in motion while turning their backgrounds into colorful streaks.

The eureka moment, he said, came when he realized that panoramic cameras actually produce timeline images. When you take a panorama photograph on your smartphone, for instance, you aren’t capturing a single moment in time—you’re capturing a given landscape over the course of the 30 seconds or so that it takes to pan your camera across the horizon. By tinkering with the camera’s settings, Johnson was able to capture an entire narrative in a single frame. “I approached my subjects like a cinematographer,” he explains.

Johnson sought out subjects for the series all over the world, from an open-pit coal mine in Kentucky to a commuter train in Johannesburg, South Africa. Some of the earliest images in the series show a woman performing tai chi at a photography studio in Hamburg, Germany. “People doing tai chi move very slowly for long periods of time,” Johnson says. “So I could stand next to someone and just keep shooting all kinds of angles, trying out different lenses and recording speeds.”

A genuine Renaissance man, Johnson trained as an architect before moving into performance art, political activism, filmmaking, special effects work, and now fine-art photography. In the 1990s he spent two years studying linguistics and biological anthropology at UCLA. What connects all these disparate endeavors is Johnson’s polymorphous curiosity about the world. In explaining the Spacetime series, he made reference to theoretical physics, Japanese poetry, the philosophical field of epistemology, director Ridley Scott, and Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico.

“For something to capture my interest it has to be challenging or curious or stand out in some way,” Johnson says. “The same holds true whether I’m looking at art or making it.”

Johnson is the first to admit that the Spacetime photographs can be hard to decipher—“the human brain isn’t equipped to process them”—but for him, that’s exactly the point. He wants to force viewers to reconsider their categories of perception. “In my view, space and time are just cultural constructs,” he says. “They’re blended together, and we separate them conceptually.”

To quote from one of the films Johnson worked on: Whoa.

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The star on the right shoulder of the Orion constellation is a red supergiant called Betelgeuse. (Don’t say it three times in a row or Michael Keaton will show up at your door.) This star, one of the brightest in the night sky, is easy to locate because Orion is such an iconic constellation. However, around 700 years ago Betelgeuse began to grow dimmer, and that light (or lack thereof) is only now reaching Earth. The star could be in one of its dimming cycles—Betelgeuse is classified as a variable star, a type known for growing brighter and darker—or it could be about to explode. And because scientists haven’t seen Betelgeuse dim this much in a very long time, they think the end might be near. And when it does go kablooey, which could happen next year or tens of thousands of years from now, it’s going to be about as bright as the full moon and visible even during the daytime.

Unlike our smooth, spherical sun, Betelgeuse is a churning hot blob of a star. And it’s one of the biggest stars we’ve ever found. It has a radius that’s 1,400 times larger than our sun. This photo, taken by the ALMA telescope in Chile, shows its irregular shape and was the first photo ever taken of the surface of a star.Photograph: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/E. O’Gorman/P. Kervella
At only 8 million years old, Betelgeuse is burning bright, even against this tapestry of starlight. If one day Betelgeuse does go supernova, this image taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey would look very different. The star is already expelling material out into space, but the force of a supernova would fundamentally alter the star and its environment, forcing the star’s material far out into space and turning this photo from a peaceful image into a marvelous light show.Photograph: ESO
This image, taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, shows how huge and lopsided Betelgeuse really is. For scale, the very small red disk in the center is four and a half times the size of Earth’s orbit.Photograph: ESO/P. Kervella
This view of Betelgeuse shows the massive star and the curved arch of its bow shock (material that has been shot out from the star). See the wall to the left? That is a collection of dust likely connected to a separate magnetic field region. Scientists think that the curved bow-shock will collide with the dusty filament on the left in around 5,000 years, as the system moves through space, while the star itself will take another 12,500 years to cover that distance.Photograph: ESA
The constellation of Orion—the Hunter—is one of the most well known constellations. At the southern part of the constellation is the famous Orion Nebula, seen in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. At a mere 1,450 light years away, it is one of the closest star-forming regions in our “local” neighborhood.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Toledo

Beeline over here to look at more space photos.

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When photographer Jana Sophia Nolle moved to San Francisco three years ago, she met a lot of people. Some inhabited multimillion-dollar houses with pristine Victorian architecture and fancy furniture. Others lived in cardboard boxes.

The contrast between their dwellings plagued Nolle, who hails from Kassel, Germany, where income inequality is less stark. While San Francisco boasts the highest density of billionaires per capita in the world, the Bay Area hosts the country’s third-largest population of people experiencing homelessness. The government shelters only a third of them.

“I’d never seen so many people living on the street in a country as rich as America,” Nolle says. “I was shocked.”

So, when an unhoused man she knew suggested, jokingly, that she invite him into one of her wealthy friends’ homes, it sparked an idea: What if, instead, she pitched his tent there? This provocative vision inspired her series Living Room, sending Nolle on a quest to photograph the scrappy DIY shelters of the poor inside the immaculately styled parlors of the rich. “They’re implants in rooms where they don’t belong,” she says.

Photograph: Jana Sophia Nolle

The patchworks made of boxes and newspapers are reproductions of shelters she saw riding her bike through neighborhoods like South of Market, Potrero Hill, and the Mission. Many included a plywood base with wheels attached so that they could be rolled away from city workers, who like to dismantle them. Nolle spent hours chatting with the owners, who’d lived on the streets anywhere from a few months to 20 years, after getting out of prison or losing jobs or falling ill. Some even drew reference sketches of their structures and told her where she could find similar materials. She purchased ropes and tarps at hardware stores, asked places like U-Haul if they had extra boxes, and borrowed shopping carts from unhoused people who had one to spare. Nolle even traded new items for the originals when she couldn’t find something, like one woman’s Justin Bieber blanket.

Nolle then erected the shelters in 15 living rooms across San Francisco neighborhoods like Haight-Ashbury, Cole Valley, and the Presidio. She met some homeowners through her then-boyfriend’s family, who recommended their own friends. One, a board member of a local foundation, invited her to symphonies, fundraisers, and other philanthropic events to meet potential participants. After explaining the project over coffee or tea, some declined, citing worries about privacy or bed bugs. Others insisted they weren’t rich. “They would say, ‘I’m more upper-middle class,’ though from my perspective I would definitely put them in the upper class,” Nolle says.

The homeowners watched as she moved furniture, carried in materials, and photographed them on Kodak Portra 400 film. For Nolle, the crux of the project was to stimulate rich conversations about wealth and inequality. One family even involved their kids. The parents said, ‘We don’t think our children are really aware of how privileged they are, and this would be a great way to have a real conversation about it.”

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Stellar nurseries are some of the most photogenic regions in the universe. The gas and dust of these nebulas consist of different elements that appear in our telescopes and cameras as a variety of colors. The colors can reveal the temperatures of this gas as well as the types of materials present. This week we are on a journey to the Swan Nebula, also known as Omega or M17. Scientists only recently realized that this nebula was formerly two separate objects that merged some time ago—creating the characteristic swan shape. Strap in for some star forming because this nebula has everything: gas, dust, stars.

NASA’s SOFIA telescope has been studying the famous Swan Nebula in order to better understand how this bird got its shape. Combining the data from three different telescopes—Spitzer, Herschel and SOFIA—creates a composite image that reveals the nebula’s full complexity. Toward the center, where new stars are born, blue gas glows hotter than the surrounding zones. Recent observations from SOFIA identified nine proto-stars in the southern region, and discovered that the Swan’s shape is likely the result of a long-ago merger of two separate nebulas.Photograph: NASA/SOFIA/Lim, De Buizer, & Radomski et al.; ESA/Herschel; NASA/JPL-Caltech
In this view from the Spitzer Space Telescope, we see a different aspect of the Swan Nebula. Unlike many other Spitzer photos which are filtered for infrared or x-ray light, this spectacular photo is in visible light—meaning, if you could pull up to this nebula this is what you would see. The central star-forming region still shines bright, but the entire field of view is blanketed with stars.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Penn State/DSS
This infrared view from NASA’s Spitzer telescope reveals even more texture and activity in this busy region. Nestled in the center of this sea of starlight are massive stars expelling vast streams of gas, which shape the cloud of debris around them.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin
In this image from the Hubble Space Telescope, the center of the Swan Nebula appears shrouded in a cloud of hydrogen gas. Blues and greens reveal oxygen atoms, as well as nitrogen, hydrogen, and sulfur.Photograph: NASA; Johns Hopkins University; USCS/LO; STScI; ACS; ESA
A renowned image from the Hubble Space telescope creates the feeling of floating in a spaceship through the middle of the action. The nebula’s center glows orange like a sea of fire, surrounded by dense clouds of hydrogen, the main stuff of stars.Photograph: NASA

Want more to ogle? Wander over to this sector of the WIRED universe.

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A nudist church in Virginia where the pastor delivers sermons in his birthday suit. A drive-in church in Florida where parishioners can attend services from the comfort of their cars. A 500-foot-long, “Biblically accurate” reconstruction of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky. These wild and woolly corners of American Christianity are the focal points of French photographer Cyril Abad’s series In God We Trust.

While some two-thirds of Americans describe themselves as Christians, a declining number identify with any specific sect. In 2000, half of Americans belonged to a Protestant denomination; today, that number is down to 30 percent. Many of the rest—one in six Americans—consider themselves nondenominational. These unaffiliated worshippers are the ones targeted by the proliferating number of alternative churches and Christian recreational sites captured by Abad.

“Churches have adopted free-market principles to open up new niches in spiritual beliefs,” Abad says. “If you’re a surfer, there’s a church for Christian surfers. If you’re a biker, there’s a church for bikers. I’m less interested in big megachurches and more interested in these small churches designed to appeal to specific tribes.”

Abad sees these churches as a distinctly American phenomenon; there is no comparable phenomenon in France, he says. He spent almost a year researching churches and Christian-themed attractions all over America before settling on the seven included in the series, which he visited over the course of three visits to the US in 2017 and 2018. The most difficult to get permission to photograph was the Virginia nudist church; to make the parishioners more comfortable, Abad took off his own clothes while taking the photographs.

The series can certainly be funny, particularly the images of the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, a Biblical amusement park featuring a re-creation of ancient Jerusalem and daily reenactments of Jesus’s crucifixion. But Abad insists he doesn’t intend to ridicule the people who visit such attractions. “That’s why I don’t show people crying in the Holy Land Experience—I always show them from the back,” he says.

For Abad, the photographs are part of a longstanding interest in the sociology of religion. “I want people to be amused, but after that to be challenged and start asking deeper questions,” he says. Mocking is easy. Empathy—and understanding—are the hard part.

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The Wildwoods is the collective name for a cluster of small shore towns spread across a five-mile-long barrier island in southern New Jersey. The area first developed into a major summer tourism destination in the 1950s when brothers Lou and Will Morey, inspired by a visit to Miami’s South Beach, started building motels on the island. The Jersey Shore destination got another big bump in 1957 with the completion of the Garden State Parkway, which channeled an estimated 350,000 additional cars to the region every year. By 1970, more than 300 new motels had been built in The Wildwoods, many of them owned by the Moreys.

Around half of those motels are still in operation, and they’re the subject of native New Jerseyan Tyler Haughey’s series, Ebb Tide. Haughey grew up near Asbury Park on the northern stretch of New Jersey’s long Atlantic coast, so he’s familiar with the culture of beach towns that fill up with tourists during the summer and empty out in the winter. “I have a strong connection to that landscape, especially in the off-season when all the tourists leave,” he says. “People still live there, but a lot of these places are just kind of forgotten about.”

Although he visited The Wildwoods on a family vacation as a child, it wasn’t until he was attending college in Philadelphia that Haughey began developing a professional interest in the region. Once it caught his eye, he started making 90-minute drives to The Wildwoods to photograph the area’s kitschy, ‘50s-era motels, all of which were emblazoned with names like Isle of Capri, Monaco, and Caribbean. “Developers like the Moreys named their motels after these far-off destinations that middle-class vacationers may not have been able to reach,” Haughey says. The low-rise motels all looked fairly similar, using simple geometric forms and poured concrete construction individualized by tropical paint jobs and bright neon signs.

Many of the motels were at least superficially inspired by Miami’s Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels, icons of mid-century modernism. The Moreys and other Wildwoods developers democratized the mi-dcentury modern aesthetic by using inexpensive construction techniques to mass-produce motels catering to America’s booming middle class. Although mostly ignored by architecture critics at the time, such styles began to get reappraised thanks in part to the landmark 1972 book Learning from Las Vegas by architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, who championed the “decorated shed”—a generic structure whose function is only identifiable by flashy signage.

Haughey cites Learning from Las Vegas as an important influence on his photography, which captures the beauty of modest coastal motels in the middle of winter. (The photographs are included in Haughey’s new book Everything Is Regional, recently published by Aint-Bad, and will be exhibited at the Sears Peyton Gallery’s booth at Photo LA from January 30 to February 2.) He chose to shoot the motels in the off-season in order to focus on the buildings themselves rather than the tourists who continue to throng the South Jersey coast every summer. Although many of the motels have been torn down and replaced by high-rise condos, the ones that remain continue to attract middle-class vacationers from upstate New Jersey and the Philadelphia suburbs, just as they have for half a century.

“There’s still a huge draw to them,” Haughey says. “The Wildwoods hasn’t gone upscale—in the summer it still attracts a lot of blue-collar families. It’s kind of great that it has managed to hold onto that identity.”

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This year will be a big one for the Red Planet, with the launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover from Cape Canaveral in Florida this summer. The rover isn’t due to land on Mars until February of 2021, but we can still enjoy the planet’s riches in the meantime. Although very much an alien world, it has a lot in common with our planetary home. The Red Planet has ice caps on its north and south poles, which grow in winter and melt some in summer. It has weather and seasons too, even if they don’t look quite like ours. That means the landscape is changing all the time, a metamorphosis that NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter has been well-situated to document. Images captured by the satellite’s HiRise camera reveal just what a Martian winter looks like.

Sand dunes in the northern polar region of Mars glimmer here in winter. The darker sand is basalt left over from ancient volcanic activity. The iconic red Martian terrain is speckled with a white-ish dusting of ice. Not unlike Earth’s seasonal weather, these white patches will eventually sublimate (turn from ice to vapor) during Mars’s summer months.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
The scale of this photo makes it’s hard to tell how massive these sand dunes are. But if you look closely, in between the dunes you’ll see little specks that are actually giant boulders. In HiRise images, finer material such as very small-grained sand often shows up as darker features, which we can see scattered throughout this photo.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
This image looks like something seen through a microscope, but no, this is a large swath of Martian terrain. This section of the South polar ice cap consists in part of frozen carbon dioxide, which melts over the summer months. The melting carbon dioxide ice reveals pockets of darker material below the surface.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Even for Mars, this is an odd one. It sort of looks like we are falling into a black hole here, but this is actually carbon dioxide frost mixed with Martian dust atop some dunes. As the small icy patches sublimate away, darker sandy material appears below.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
There are gullies just like this one all over Earth. This Martian one, with its apparently stagnant river-like lines, features frost in early springtime. The dark red of the planet stands in stark contrast to the white of the frost. This seasonal change reveals features that otherwise tend to be invisible, such as the crackling along the surface to the right and the textures on the left.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
These dendritic patterns form over many seasons of winters and summers. As the land freezes and thaws time and again, the landscape changes. These repeating polygons make this southern landscape a surprising place to find a series of fractals on the ever fascinating Martian landscape.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Want to see more? Check out the entire collection of space photos here.

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Most people standing at the shore of Lake Constance in southern Germany look up to admire the snow-blanketed Swiss Alps across the water. But while skating along its frozen northwest edge three Januaries ago, photographer Tom Hegen discovered an equally awesome sight looking down.

“The structures in the ice fascinated me and the patterns changed all the time,” Hegen says. “I wondered how it might look from a greater perspective.”

So, a week later, Munich-based Hegen returned to the iconic lake, which is really two bodies of water—the Untersee (or Lower Lake) and Obersee (Upper Lake)—connected by the Rhine River. He brought along the remote-controlled quadcopter he built in 2015 for taking aerial photos. Hegen flew it up to 800 feet above the Mindelsee, a smaller, nearby lake with more interesting surface patterns that feeds into the Untersee. A mirrorless camera mounted on the aircraft snapped hundreds of photos, each capturing an ethereal, 200-foot-wide expanse of ice.

Despite his fascination, Hegen isn’t sure what caused the formations, which resemble the chaotic drips and splashes in a Jackson Pollock painting. But Matti Leppäranta, who teaches geophysics at the University of Helsinki, says the gray and white areas result from air bubbles in the ice and “very shallow snow dunes” atop of it. The huge circular patterns are likely connected to heat rising from deeper lake water and thinning the ice—“a good sign to watch your step carefully,” Leppäranta says.

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This past decade took us all over the cosmos. Physicists produced the first picture of a black hole. A giant rover landed on Mars. A spacecraft visited Pluto for the first time.

Decade in Review: WIRED looks back at the promises and failures of the last 10 years

With data collected by robotic explorers, satellites, and telescopes orbiting the Earth, the last ten years have taught us a lot about the universe we live in, but as with all exploration, more questions now await answers in the decade ahead. This week, we hop around the cosmos as we revisit the highlights of the 2010s.

Perhaps one of the most stunning and mindblowing images to come out of the last decade or century is this one–the first image of a black hole. You might be wondering, how can we see a black hole if it emits no light and is well, black? Check out the ring of light: That is the event horizon, where matter is getting gobbled up and heated up so much that it glows as it gets sucked in.

Photograph: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

Astronomers captured this image of the Southern Crab nebula in honor of Hubble Space Telescope’s 29th anniversary since its launch. The colorful and oddly shaped nebula is created by the force blasts of two stars zipping around each other. One of the stars is a red giant (the fate our own sun will eventually meet), and in its death it is shedding material, which then gets pulled in by the other star to create this stunning shape.

Photograph: STScI

W49B is a distorted supernova remnant. This image uses a combination of x-ray filters, radio waves and infrared to create the full range of colors. Scientists think this supernova remnant might contain the most recent black hole to form in our galaxy. At 1,000 years old this remnant and the black hole are both very young, and are 26,000 light years away.

Photograph: NASA/CXC/MIT/L.Lopez et al.; Palomar; NSF/NRAO/VLA

NASA’s Juno Mission launched to Jupiter on July 4, 2016 and has been delivering mind-blowing images of the gas giant ever since. This photo shows a massive vortex spinning in Jupiter’s atmosphere. By filtering for the blues, scientists were able to see for the first time the complex structure of a storm.

Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

One of the decade’s most thrilling moments in space happened in 2015 when NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft flew past Pluto, making it the first and only mission to ever visit this gorgeous dwarf planet. Not only was Pluto’s surface filled with strange textures and geology, an unmistakable and now iconic feature appeared on its surface: a huge heart.

Photograph: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

You’d be forgiven if you thought this image was of Earth. These are active gullies on Mars taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling Mars since 2006. Gullies like these, which exist on Earth as well, are signs of active geology, as the landscape changes with wind, the formation of ice, and its subsequent melting.

Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

In August of 2012, NASA accomplished a major feat: landing an SUV-sized robotic rover on the surface of Mars. In December, just a few months later, the Curiosity rover took a selfie from the surface of the red planet. This photo was taken by a rover 142 million miles away. The tracks of its barely driven tires are clear and visible, pressed into the fine, rusty sand of another world.

Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Still feeling nostalgic? Look back at the rest of the decade’s space photos here.

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When photographers show their work to us WIRED photo editors, common responses as to why they’re reluctant to show off some of their most interesting projects include “I wasn’t sure if this is WIRED’s style,” or “I didn’t think you cover this.”

Year in Review: What WIRED learned from tech, science, culture, and more in 2019

Sure, we feature some obvious technological subjects, like the optical fibers bringing 5G online. And it’s no secret we rely on certain techniques (hint: hard light and bold shadows). But, as our editor in chief Nicholas Thompson likes to say, WIRED isn’t simply a publication about technology; it’s a magazine about change. That change manifests in myriad forms and is documented by a diverse spectrum of photography, sometimes over the span of years. Here, writers Laura Mallonee and Michael Hardy highlight some of their favorite projects and image-makers from 2019.

An anatomical model stands in a lecture hall at the Free University of Berlin. For Nikita Teryoshin, the model is a symbol of human control over cows—as he puts it, “how we can look into the cow and see everything.”Photograph: Nikita Teryoshin

It’s easy to find shocking photos of slaughterhouses online. Nikita Teryoshin’s Hornless Heritage has a similar effect, minus the gore. His bright flash illuminates the utilitarian calculation of an industry where cows are commodities, and treated as such. At least, it made me lose my appetite. —Laura Mallonee

This sculpture, by 19th-century German glassworkers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, depicts the Chrysaora hyoscella, or compass jellyfish.Photograph: Guido Mocafico

If you taught marine biology in the 19th century and needed teaching aids, you wrote to father-and-son glassworkers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, who created thousands of dazzlingly lifelike models of jellyfish and other invertebrates in their Dresden studio. Shipped all over the world, hundreds of the glass models still survive in university museums. Guido Mocafico recently spent several years traveling around Europe to photograph the models, lighting them so they looked as realistic as possible. It worked—some viewers believe they’re looking at actual sea creatures. —Michael Hardy

‘Hair Dye’, 2016, is a self-portrait in Elinor Carucci’s new book Midlife. It’s a poignant exploration of middle age and the loss of youth.Photograph: Elinor Carucci 

Few women see their own uteruses post-hysterectomy, much less photograph them. Elinor Carucci nearly passed out while doing so. That bravery (obstinance?) reverberates through Midlife, an unprecedented look at aging and corporeal loss that resonates for women, of course, and with anyone else alike. —Laura Mallonee

Kiki Roust appears suited up to play with Vermont’s NAHA White, part of the Junior Women’s Hockey League.Photograph: Alana Paterson

Women make up 40 percent of all athletes but receive just 4 percent of all sports-related coverage. It’s backward and dumb, and Alana Paterson is doing her part to change it. I was inspired by her high-contrast photos of young hockey players whizzing across the ice, part of a larger body of work spotlighting underrepresented—and often underpaid—female athletes. —Laura Mallonee

This image was captured near Interstate 79 in Elkview, West Virginia, after a series of floods had passed through the area.

Photograph: Joshua Dudley Greer

The highway is an iconic symbol of American freedom. But it’s also a drab backdrop for countless soul-wearying commutes and thousands of traffic deaths. Joshua Dudley Greer captures this friction in Somewhere Across This Line, a 100,000-mile odyssey through the interstate system. —Laura Mallonee

Buzkashi is a centuries-old Central Asian sport in which men on horses fight over a decapitated, disemboweled goat or calf carcass.Photograph: Anna Huix

In the centuries-old Central Asian sport of buzkashi, several dozen horseback riders fight to throw a disemboweled goat or calf carcass into a ring or other designated area. With no teams, no clock, and no clearly defined playing field, it’s one of the world’s wildest sports. Anna Huix traveled to Tajikistan specifically to photograph a buzkashi match, and masterfully captured the tradition’s pageantry and mayhem. —Laura Mallonee

Photographer Amir Zaki grew up skating, but when he turned his camera on the skate parks of Southern California his interest was more in the parks than the skating.Photograph: Amir Zaki

Skate parks have become a defining feature of Southern California’s built environment. Although sometimes dismissed as eyesores, Los Angeles photographer Amir Zaki finds the beauty in the parks’ sculpted concrete bowls and plateaus, which for him evoke the work of Land Art pioneer Michael Heizer. Zaki photographed the parks early in the morning, before any skaters had arrived, to better capture their austere grandeur. —Michael Hardy

When photographer Neil Burnell visited Wistman’s Wood on a family holiday as a child, he was reminded of Dagobah, the swamp planet where Yoda lives in Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back.Photograph: Neil Burnell

Wistman’s Wood in southwestern England has long inspired stories of the supernatural, serving as a setting for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and an inspiration for Fangorn Forest in The Lord of the Rings. Photographer Neil Burnell visited the woods as a child, and over the past few years has made some 20 trips there in an attempt to capture its otherworldly beauty. These images were mostly taken during the “blue hour” just before sunrise, and although they may look computer-generated, they’re very real. —Michael Hardy

The nuclear icebreaker 50 Years of Victory arrives to tow a cargo ship carrying supplies for the Yamal LNG factory in Sabetta through the Kara Sea.Photograph: Charles Xelot

Melting sea ice may be bad for polar bears, but it’s good for Russian oil and gas tycoons eager to tap the Arctic’s resources. Charles Xelot’s epic photographs take you to the frontier where they’re drilling for fossil fuels, and shipping it via the Northeast Passage—occasionally getting stuck. —Laura Mallonee

For Jonk, a longtime aficionado of Soviet relics, the trip was a career highlight. He hopes the surviving Burans will eventually be rescued from their current neglect and accorded the proper respect.Photograph: Jonk

The photographer and urban explorer known as Jonk has managed to sneak into some 1,500 abandoned buildings around the world, but none was as difficult to access—or as worthwhile—as the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Jonk and three friends had to hike all night through the desert to access the active spaceport, but they were rewarded with the opportunity to photograph two abandoned Soviet space shuttles currently rusting away in a hangar. Jonk and his buddies spent two full days exploring the site before reluctantly heading back to the real world. —Michael Hardy

Go here to check out what else caught our collective eyes this year.

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