Friday 3 January 2020

The best photographs of 2019 – and the stories behind them

From Notre Dame’s spire collapsing in flames to sled dogs wading through Greenland’s melted ice water and Stormzy triumphant at Glastonbury – photographers recall how they took some of the defining images of the year.

Jacinda Ardern after the Christchurch shooting
Kirk Hargreaves/Christchurch city council
16 March The day after an Australian far-right extremist killed 51 people and injured another 49 during prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, prime minister Jacinda Ardern met Muslim community representatives at a primary school. As I waited outside, I saw her through a classroom window between reflections of trees and late summer flowers. With those people in grief, her clasped hands, the furrow in her brow, her facial expression, show empathy, concern, sadness, but most of all, love. In a way it summed up the way New Zealand reached out to its Muslim community during a horrific time. Three weeks later, parliament voted in legislation to restrict semi-automatic firearms and magazines by 119 votes to one.

Climbers queueing at the summit of Mount Everest
Nirmal Purja/Project Possible/AFP/Getty Images
22 May I was trying to break one of my world records, the fastest summit of Everest and Lhotse – the record was 10 hours and I was trying to do it in six. I ended up waiting there for hours, so I took this photo as evidence that the queue stopped me from breaking the record. There need to be better rules and regulations for safer mountaineering. Presently there are no guidelines about how much experience you need, so after this I advised the Nepal government that people should have to demonstrate they can master at least an 8,000m mountain before attempting to climb Everest.

Migrants rescued off the Malaga coast
Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images
29 August I took this photo after an inflatable boat carrying 132 migrants was rescued by the Spanish coastguard in the Alboran Sea. They were waiting to disembark and were being cared for by members of the Red Cross. They came from the Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal. Upon arrival they were transferred to the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission, then ended up going on to France. The reason they make the journey to Europe is complex, but it is often because of extreme poverty, exploitation and conflict in their countries of origin. You see in their faces, tiredness, despair and at the same time an expression of hope. Every time I photograph immigration, I feel sadness.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at Buckingham Palace
Tim Rooke/Rex/Shutterstock
3 June I was waiting in the garden of Buckingham Palace for the arrival of President Trump for the state visit. They were landing Marine One and other helicopters in the garden, so we were a long way away from the palace, and there was heightened security because of the likelihood of protests. Jared and Ivanka were looking out the window so they had a view of the whole garden and could watch the president arrive and review the guard of honour with the Queen. There was a symmetry about the way they were standing; for some reason it reminds me of Grant Wood’s 1930 painting American Gothic.

Rioters kiss in Santiago, Chile
Cherry Guzman
28 October I took this shot on the 10th day of the greatest social unrest Chile has seen, with people demanding dignity and equality when it comes to health, education, pay and free, safe and legal abortion, as well as many other issues. I had got into the habit of going down to the Plaza de la Dignidad in Santiago between 3pm and 4pm to see what was going on with the protesting. That day President Sebastián Piñera had called for calm, saying everything would go back to normal. That just made people even more furious. There were fires all around the plaza, including one just behind the masked couple standing outside the entrance to the metro station. I decided to take a picture. I think chaos is the best word to describe the atmosphere: there was smoke everywhere and the wind was whipping pieces of burnt paper into mini-tornadoes. There were sirens, flares, and all the noise from the fire engines and ambulances passing by. People were euphoric, and were chanting against the president and against repression. They were toppling lampposts and traffic lights to stop water cannon getting through and sheltering from rubber bullets behind bus stops. There was real rage in the air. People had lost their fear of protesting and felt it was time to say what they were thinking.
Interview by Sam Jones

A Rohingya boy shelters from the rain in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Allison Joyce/Getty Images
21 August A few days before the second anniversary of what is now termed Genocide Day, Bangladesh announced its plan to repatriate 3,000 Rohingya to Myanmar. The mood in the camps was one of fear and panic, and some families were in hiding. The vast majority of the refugees refused to go back without their rights, citizenship and safety guaranteed. I heard that representatives from UNHCR were going door to door in the camp, talking to refugees about the plan and answering their questions. I hiked for more than an hour to reach the camp, and as soon as I tracked them down, the skies opened up and a downpour started. A group who had been talking with the UNHCR team took cover under the roof of a nearby tent. For a few moments, this boy leaned out into the rain, enjoying a brief respite from the summer heat, seemingly lost in his own world.

Crab stuck inside a plastic cup
Noel Guevara/Greenpeace/EPA
7 March During a Greenpeace ship tour from Manila to Cebu, we did an underwater audit of plastic in the Verde Island Passage, the heart of global marine biodiversity. On the first dive day I was shooting near the surface when I found this crab stuck inside a cup. I felt mortified, but not as much as I should have. It’s so common now it’s no longer a surprise, which is telling of the gravity of the problem. For plastic waste, the Philippines is the third highest ocean polluter in the world. It sits in the centre of the Coral Triangle, meaning an abundance of marine life is in close and frequent contact with plastic debris – I often see diapers, plastic bags and plastic packaging underwater. I hope photos like this help people understand the extent of our impact on the natural world. It’s not simply a case of ditching plastic, but of changing our throwaway mentality.

Stormzy headlines Glastonbury
David Jensen/Empics Entertainment/PA
28 June I had seen Stormzy perform before at smaller venues, so I knew how talented he was. But this – Friday night on the Pyramid stage in front of an 80,000-strong crowd, the first black solo British artist and the first grime artist to ever headline Glastonbury, and at such a young age (25) – was such a historic moment that I felt nervous for him. Once he came running out on to the stage, he gave off this energy. The place erupted. I was completely blown away. He has since said he cried after the performance. About 20 minutes into the set he had issues with his earpiece and couldn’t hear himself, and he came off thinking he had completely blown it. But he was incredible. It was pretty special.

Los Angeles Pride
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
9 June I was asked to cover street style at the LA Pride festival in West Hollywood, California, in a creative and fun way. Typically, street style is shot to just show off what the general fashion is, but I took a different approach and asked people for portraits so that I could get some emotion and personality to come out. I was very specific about who I asked for photos, but these two were an obvious choice. They completely embodied the spirit of this festival – it’s a place to be entirely yourself, have fun, and spend time with the people you love. They were unapologetically themselves and that is exactly what I was hoping to capture.

Women worship in the polluted Yamuna River, India
2 November Walking along the bank of the Yamuna early one morning, I saw these women praying in the river. It was the Hindu festival of Chhath Puja – the women fast for three days, then dip themselves in the water and pray to the sun god. So many people look at this photo and think it’s snow, but it’s actually the pollution from the river. The chemical waste from industrial and household pollution makes the froth. It’s a terrible irony that these women were praying while standing in water that could affect their health. There were even kids playing with the foam. That week, Delhi’s air pollution peaked to a three-year high. In India, the rivers are very important in our culture and praying in water is common. Pictures like this show how rivers like the Yamuna are now so polluted, it comes in the path of your faith as well as your health.

The christening of Harry and Meghan’s son
Chris Allerton for Sussex Royal via Getty Images
8 May I was honoured to take the official photographs at the christening of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, and to once again be part of such a special and joyous occasion for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Greta Thunberg addresses the Montreal climate strike
Eric Demers/Polaris/eyevine
27 September When Greta Thunberg announced that she was going to be in Montreal for the climate strike march, we all knew this was going to be huge. In fact, with 500,000 protesters, it was the biggest demonstration in Canadian history. To get a true sense of the magnitude of the event, I convinced them to let me go on stage to take this photo. She was like a rock star. It was striking, the difference between her shyness offstage and her level of comfort in front of a crowd; she climbed the stairs and went straight to the microphone, then turned towards the sun and cracked a little smile.

California wildfire wedding
Karna Roa/
26 October Many of the wedding vendors in Sonoma county had actually evacuated their families before driving to the venue. The nearest fires were about 25 miles away and by the end of the ceremony the sky had turned an orange-brown; by sunset it was a brilliant red from the smoke. The happiest day of this couple’s lives was affected by climate change; nobody is immune from it. So we decided to get a shot of them wearing the air-filter masks: I imagined them looking back at their wedding album in years to come. There was a lot of love in the air, but the fires were a huge part of their story and this photo is true to what it felt like to be there. After three years of wildfires, it made me stop and think: is this the new normal for California in the fall?

Sled dogs in melted ice water, Greenland
Steffen M Olsen/Danish Meteorological Institute/AP
13 June I was in northwest Greenland to collect instruments that had been deployed on the sea ice in December, a trip I’ve done annually for the last eight years. This year the Arctic summer had come a few weeks early and it was 15-17C – extremely warm for June. In the fjord, we found ourselves in more water than we had ever seen on the ice in early June, which reflects what we know – the season for sea ice is getting shorter. The early melting of the ice cover led to water that was 20-40cm deep. Even the dogs – who have a hard life – were struggling. The local hunters, who we rely on for their traditional knowledge, were uncertain and found it extreme. We reached our limits and had to turn around. After 48 hours, more cracks had developed and drained most of the surface water away, so we were able to complete the assignment. I think that, symbolically, the photo shows the impact of climate change and how societies are challenged to plan and adapt for the future; this way of life and culture may not exist in 50 years’ time.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge after the Emmys
Josh Cole
23 September At the afterparty at Chateau Marmont in LA, hours after Phoebe had won a hatful of Emmys for Fleabag, we were sitting round the pool, away from the main party, when I captured an impromptu moment. I produced her first show (Crashing, for Channel 4), so I’ve seen first-hand how hard she has worked from the beginning. It has been a surreal joy watching Hollywood and the wider world discover her brilliance. She is an extraordinary soul and a multi-talented artist who deserves every accolade she has received. This was one of those nights you don’t forget and I’m thrilled that it resonated with so many. It’s not every day you take a candid picture of an old friend that the world embraces with such a fever.

Notre Dame Cathedral fire
Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP
15 April I was having a beer after work when my boss called. There were reports of a small fire on the roof at Notre Dame. As I set off for the cathedral on my motorbike, I could see unusual yellow smoke from 2km away. It was soon clear it wasn’t a small fire. People were crowded around taking pictures, covering their mouths from the smoke with scarves, crying, praying. When the spire collapsed, people around me gasped. I remember people kneeling, praying and singing hymns – Ave Maria. I suppose you could say it could have been a lot worse; we could have lost the towers and that would have been the end of Notre Dame. Later, we started to ask, why had this historic building not been properly protected? How could this happen in 2019?

Hurricane Dorian, The Bahamas
Ramón Espinosa/AP
3 September I’ve covered many hurricanes but none with Dorian’s force. It was a monster that destroyed everything. It did not stop raining heavily and everything was flooded. When I arrived, there were volunteers with jet skis and small boats rescuing people. I asked if I could travel with them but the space was necessary for survivors. I decided to walk to the flooded area and that’s when I found these people – some of the volunteers who put their lives at stake to rescue their neighbours. They walked to a high area to get out of the water after working hard to get people out.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates USA Women’s World Cup victory
Maja Hitij/Getty Images
7 July Women’s football gained so much more attention this year and has become so popular, with record viewing figures and stadiums selling out. Against the backdrop of suing for equal pay with the men’s game, the US team had such a strong run throughout the World Cup that everyone expected them to win. There is a very different atmosphere at women’s matches; more of a family event. The sport has a different feel too. It’s more about the team and the sport itself than individual players. I took this photo of Megan Rapinoe after Team USA had won and been presented with the trophy. She struck this iconic pose for the cameras. I could hear fans cheering for equal pay from the stands.

Torrential rain at the Tour de Yorkshire
Alex Broadway/
2 May I’ve been photographing the Tour de Yorkshire since 2015 and this was the worst weather I had ever seen. It was the first stage and I was working off the back of a motorbike. After the breakaway came through, the other photographers left, but I waited for the peloton to come over the bridge. It just started absolutely chucking it down. I had never experienced rain like that in this country – I was completely soaked through and one of my lenses packed up. It was sheer luck that Nicholas Dlamini came out in front in white and they formed this perfect arrow shape. My screen was covered in rain, so I jumped back on the bike to get ahead of the peloton again, concentrating on keeping my cameras dry. It was only later, while I was trying to dry off, that I realised how nice it had turned out.

Protester confronts an armed policeman in Hong Kong
Lam Yik Fei/New York Times/Redux/eyevine
25 August The protests were in their third month when I took this photo. Violence had broken out after a peaceful march and many protesters carried umbrellas, a symbol of the resistance movement. Hong Kong police officers drew pistols on protesters who were charging them with sticks. One officer fired a warning shot into the air after another officer fell. This unarmed protester in shorts and a tanktop approached one of them and dropped to his knees, saying: “Don’t shoot”. The officer didn’t shoot, but kicked the man, knocking him over. I got this shot a moment later, when he stood up and backed away, umbrella in hand.

(Source: The Guardian)

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