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Invented Photo Essay

There’s something they say about words and pictures, so we won’t belabor this too much. Below you’ll find some of the most eye-catching photographs we ran on the site in the last year. Set aside some time to scroll through each one: They’re an amazing window onto everything that’s happening in the world–from Detroit’s collapse and the economic rise of China and the Middle East, to environmental disasters at home and abroad.

And then, less seriously, some great photos of those ridiculous fake tree cell phone towers, hilarious examples of what happens when strangers draw your Facebook photos, and a series of the true residents of Portland, who are crazier than anything you’ve seen on Portlandia. You’ll enjoy them all. And if that’s not enough, you can see our favorites from last year here.

1: Beautifully Mashed-Up Photos Show The Glory And Wreckage Of Detroit

The “Detroit Now and Then” project artfully combines vintage photos of the city with images of what’s there now, providing a poignant reminder of what the city was, what it is now and–maybe–what it could be again.

2: “Portraitlandia”: Photos Of Portland’s Most Portland-y Residents

If Portlandia were a photo series, it would probably look something like Kirk Crippens’s “Portraitlandia,” which features iconic Rose City residents in their natural habitats.

3: Look At These Chinese Workers Carrying Mind-Blowing Amounts Of Stuff

11: These Horrifying Photos Show A Destroyed American Landscape That Agriculture Giants Don’t Want You To See

These aerial images of industrial beef farming operations look less like shots of land and more like a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

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.

Read more of our best stories of the year in these categories: Top stories, infographics, photography, maps, buildings, design, cities, food, transportation, innovative workplaces, bikes, collaborative consumption, energy, crowdfunding, robots, environment, health, education

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including Tomas Munita's photographs from Gaza and Israel, made on assignment for the New York Times. The work, coinciding with the first anniversary of last year's 50 day war between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, consists of eight innovative stop-motion-sequences which take us to the streets, hospitals, and homes on both sides of the conflict, and provide an immersive glimpse of how the two groups of communities are coping, one year after.

Tomas Munita: Walking in War's Path (The New York Times)

Brent Stirton: Tracking Ivory: Terror in Africa | Ivory's Human Toll (National Geographic) Two strong sets of images for National Geographic magazine's latest cover story.

Lynsey Addario: Inside the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Diamond Mines (TIME LightBox)Terrific set of images looking at Congo's diamond mining communities.

Andres Kudacki: Spain’s Housing Crisis (TIME LightBox)Powerful three-year project on the country's home evictions, now on show at Visa pour l'Image photojournalism festival.

Mary Ellen Mark: New Orleans (CNN Money)The legendary photographer's final assignment, done ahead of Hurricane Katrina's 10th anniversary.

Daniel Etter: Hands Across Water (Al Jazeera America) Moving series on a small Sea-Watch ship, with a rotating crew of just eight volunteers, trying to save refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean.

Sergey Ponomarev: On Island of Lesbos, a Microcosm of Greece’s Other Crisis: Migrants (The New York Times)Dramatic photographs of refugees and migrants arriving to the Greek island.

Allison Joyce: Child Marriage Bangladesh (International Business Times)Heartbreaking pictures of a 15-year-old Bangladeshi girl's wedding | See also Joyce's other Bangladeshi child marriage series at Mashable.

Andrea Bruce: Romania's Disappearing Girls (Al Jazeera America)The Noor photographer's work shows how poverty and desperation drive Romanian girls into the arms of sex traffickers.

Matt Black: Geography of Poverty: Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 (MSNBC)Second and third chapters of the Magnum photographer's ambitious project mapping poverty around the U.S.

Mikko Takkunen is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.