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Scene Through the Lens | Dec. 21, 2020

Inquirer staff photographer Tom Gralish’s weekly visual exploration of our region.

December 21, 2020: A worker from the 9th Street Market in South Philadelphia pushes boxes of produce to a refrigerated storage area, passing through projected light snowflakes on a wall.
December 21, 2020: A worker from the 9th Street Market in South Philadelphia pushes boxes of produce to a refrigerated storage area, passing through projected light snowflakes on a wall.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

2020 has been a year like no other. For everyone, including photojournalists. When Philadelphians think back on this year, we will instantly recognize a year full of moments that changed our world — ones we will remember for years to come.

While our work — illustrating the first draft of history — is not like that of health-care professionals, we did respond to this historic year by providing a different type of essential service. The pictures we made provided a window into each other’s lives, into cities we no longer commuted to, into emotion that filled our streets.

The year started with a strange new virus making its way through China. But here it was the death of Kobe Bryant that seemed would be the story of the year. The Ben Franklin Bridge and other buildings in the Philadelphia skyline were illuminated in “Laker Purple” in honor of the Lower Merion star who leaped directly from high school here to a twenty-year, all-star career in the NBA.

As the country geared up for the presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, who started the year as the Democrats’ front-runner, finished far back in the Iowa Caucuses and fared even worse in New Hampshire’s primary. When it looked like our almost-local candidate’s struggling campaign faced a do or die moment in the South Carolina primary I was there to see if he would be ending his third try for the White House.

With a coveted last minute endorsement from James Clyburn, the highest ranking Black member of Congress, Biden won the state exceeding expectations, with a nearly 30-point blowout, and beginning the comeback that got him the Democratic nomination and eventually the presidency.

It would be just a few weeks later when COVID-19 began to shut down this country. I photographed Mayor Kenney as he announced the city’s first confirmed case, and two nights later, I was at the Kimmel Center, where the Philadelphia Orchestra performed virtually - a word we would all come to know - in the eerie silence of an empty concert hall. We would also all come to know empty spaces.

By the end of May, all of our staff had been deployed on coverage of the coronavirus as well as the protests that rose up throughout the region in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We focused our lenses on rising flames and toppling statues, while billowing tear gas and escalating tensions surrounded us. In October, another police killing, this one in our backyard, renewed calls for social justice and racial equality in the name of Walter Wallace Jr. Then, a contentious election put the eyes of the world on Pennsylvania.

Indeed, 2020 was marked by protests, by politics, and by a pandemic that prevented us from spending time with the people we photograph in their offices, homes, and schools, allowing them to get comfortable with us and open their lives to our cameras. Still, these themes did not consume the entire year, and we captured scenes of unexpected joy, of unabashed triumph, and of unparalleled resilience.

» READ MORE: The Year in Pictures

As the year drew to a close, a front-page picture by my colleague, Elizabeth Robertson showed a woman, in quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure, looking down from her apartment window. It was one of the pictures i most enjoyed seeing this year. It is also among her favorites in the gallery below, joined by pictures each of us selected from this year as our favorites.

Since 1998, a black-and-white photo has appeared every Monday in staff photographer Tom Gralish’s photo column in The Inquirer’s local news section. Here are the previous weeks, in color:

» SEE MORE: Previous blogs and Twenty years of a photo column