14 Stunning Photo Essays That Show Our Changing World In The Last Year

Heartbreaking refugees, inspiring disabled vets, and amazing views inside of America’s deserted malls.

Although we’re writers at heart at Co.Exist, we’ll admit that photos can be a more powerful medium. These are some of the most compelling stories told in photos on the site this year. They’re a window into important, slow-burning world events, such as the refugee crisis, the rise of income inequality, and the environmental impacts of a growing world population. But others tell inspiring stories of social and personal change, such as this series on amputee veterans and the death of the icon of American consumerism: the shopping mall.


Others are clever representations of the culture we live in today. This series shows our addiction to smartphones by cutting out the devices from the photo–what’s left is how mentally-checked out we are from our surroundings. Another shows comic book heroes with average bodies, illustrating the distorted body image many of us develop from the media we consume every day.

Take the time to scroll through some of the photos below. And if that’s not enough, you can see our favorites from 2014, too. Enjoy!

1: What Kind Of House Does $300,000 Get You Around The World?


Take a tour of global real estate markets, where 300 grand can buy you a mansion or a walk-in closet.

Alexmisu via Shutterstock

2: This Is What 200 Calories Looks Like

Guess what: 200 calories of carrots is a whole lot different than 200 calories of a candy bar.


Eating at the school cafeteria could’ve been amazing—if you grew up almost anywhere but the U.S.

5: These Powerful (And Hot) Photos Of Amputee Veterans Show Strength, Not Tragedy

These models may have sacrificed a limb serving their nation, but the rest of them is as healthy as ever.

Michael Stokes

6: These Beautiful Aerial Photos Of L.A. Show What Income Inequality Looks Like From Above

Richer neighborhoods are beautiful, curvy swaths of green and blue. Poverty means you live in a straight brown line.

Jeffrey Milstein

7: Surreal Photos Of Abandoned, Snow-Filled Malls Show The Death Of An Era In America


More eerie than nostalgic, the images show the passing of the age of the American shopping mall—and the broader upheaval that this represents.

Seph Lawless

8: These Photos Will Take You On A Trip Inside The World Of The 1%

A look at what extreme wealth means at a time when fewer and fewer people can even comprehend it.


9: These Photos Tackle An Uncomfortable Question: What If There Are Just Too Many People On Earth?

Population control is taboo. But it wasn’t always that way—and a new book, showing images ranging from a mall on Black Friday to a shepherd in Mongolia, could open up the conversation.


10: What’s In A Refugee’s Bag? See What People Carry As They Flee


Heartbreaking photos of the things people take when they have nothing left.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

11: These Before-And-After Shots Show How Quickly The Planet Is Changing

Glaciers shrinking. Seas disappearing. Cities sprawling. NASA combs through its satellite images to give us a stark reality check about how humans are utterly transforming our landscapes.


12: These Photos Of Tiny, Futuristic Japanese Apartments Show How Micro Micro-Apartments Can Be

Micro-apartments are in vogue today. But in Japan, people have been living in the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s 100-square-foot housing for decades.

13: This Photographer Removes Our Phones From His Photos To Show Us How Addicted We Are


You’re so accustomed to everyone holding a phone, you might not even notice they’re missing.

Eric Pickersgill

14: These Historical Photos Show How Amsterdam Turned Itself Into A Bike Rider’s Paradise

Pictures from the turn of the 20th century to today show how Amsterdam slowly—and intentionally—changed its car culture. Your city can do it, too.



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