The 15 Most Captivating Photo Essays Of 2014

Take a look at all of the stunning photos–from crazy tiny Hong Kong apartments to a scarily massive open-pit coal mine in Europe–that we stared at this year.

Take a few minutes to take in some of the most striking photographs we’ve featured on Co.Exist over the last year. Many of the pieces tell us stories about the changes we’re seeing across the face of this planet today, from the changing face of America’s sprawling suburbs to Italy’s brightly colored beaches that are doomed by climate change to the gritty scenes from the most polluted places in China.


It’s not all depressing, though. One man documented his powerful story of survival, taking a picture a day as he recovered from a gun shot wound. Another photographer took us on an inspiring journey inside a summer camp for gender non-conforming boys. And this year, men raised money for testicular cancer by posting risqué pictures on the Internet, so you can always check that out (possibly NSFW, but hopefully you’re enjoying the holidays and aren’t at work).

And if that’s not enough, you can see our favorites our favorites from last year here. Enjoy!

1: These Images Show The Tiny Amount Of Metal That Comes From Earth-Destroying Mines


The new series, For What It’s Worth, effectively asks the question: Is the destruction of mining worth the meager result?

2: Think Your Apartment Is Small? Check Out These Super-Tiny Hong Kong Houses

They’re not some project in urban micro-housing. These minuscule dwellings are the result of poor workers trying to find a place to live in the city’s booming real estate market.


3: What Happens When A Photographer Secretly Takes Over A Town’s Surveillance Camera

Networked devices like Nest promise a rosy “smart home” future. But the Internet of Things can also be really, really creepy.

4: Blue Is For Boys, Pink Is For Girls: See Children Surrounded By Their Color-Coded Toys


Brainwashing much? These kids are drowning in gender stereotypes.

5: Horrifyingly Beautiful Photos Show The Human Cost Of China’s Massive Pollution Problem

Gritty, detailed scenes from some of China’s most polluted places will make you grateful for the air you breathe.


6: The Hidden Ecosystem Of The Walmart Parking Lot

Stick around outside a Walmart long enough and you’ll notice that a lot of people actually live there. In a new series, photographer Nolan Conway documents these parking lot nomads.

7: America’s Oddly Beautiful Suburban Sprawl, Photographed From The Sky


In a new book, photographer Christoph Gielen shows us haunting images of our endlessly repetitive development.

8: Eerie Photos Of Abandoned Shopping Malls Show The Changing Face Of Suburbia

In his new book Black Friday, photographer Seph Lawless documents how the shifting economy has brought about the demise of these old symbols of American commercialism.


9: Take A Trip To This Horrifying Mine, One Of The Largest Man-Made Holes In The World

The largest hole in Europe is an open-pit coal mine in Germany, and everything inside is just enormous, including machines that are the length of two soccer fields and the height of a 30-story building.

10: Gunshot Victim Takes A Selfie A Day To Document His Healing


Antonius Wiriadjaja survived a bullet to the chest. Now he wants you to see how long and hard the healing process is.

11: Guys, Have You Taken A #CockInASock Selfie Yet? (Maybe NSFW?)

Bordering on scandalous, but for a good cause.


12: Look At The Crazy Ways These People Have Found To Reuse Potholes On City Streets

Crumbling urban infrastructure doesn’t have to be annoying. You can turn a pothole into something much more exciting—like a place for a giant bowl of spaghetti.

13: Beautiful Aerial Photos Of Doomed Vacation Beaches, Captured Before They Disappear


Italy’s beach culture is not the most serious thing threatened by climate change. But it would be sad to see this go.

14: Inspiring Photos Of Children Expressing Their True Genders

At Camp You Are You, boys don’t have to be boys. They can be whomever they want to be, even if that includes wearing a dress.


15: Stunning Photos Of The Earth From Space, From The Internet’s Favorite Astronaut

Chris Hadfield sorted through his thousands of snaps from 2,500 trips around the Earth and, with an unending sense of wonder, brings you the best.

Read more of our best stories of the year, in these categories: Most-read, photos, infographics, lists, videos, maps, buildings, robots, transportation, bikes, food, collaborative consumption, cities, energy, environment, health, education, crowdfunding, innovative workplaces, and privacy.


About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire