5.6 million. That’s roughly the number of images photo editors of The New York Times sift through each year to find the perfect photographs to represent the news for our readers. This collection of images is a testament to a mere fraction of the conflicts and triumphs, catastrophes and achievements and simple but poignant moments of everyday life in the past 365 days.
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By Dean Baquet, executive editor
So much of the year’s news played out in the streets. Week after week, protesters poured onto the wide boulevards of Hong Kong, where the photographer Lam Yik Fei seemed to be everywhere. Brexit drew tens of thousands into the streets of London. A subway fare increase was the final spark that led to protests in Santiago, Chile, and people heaved makeshift bombs along a bridge linking Venezuela and Colombia.
The tumult of mass gatherings produced some of the year’s most powerful pictures. But a quiet image of two people stood out as perhaps the saddest: Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez lay with his arm limply draped over his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, their lifeless bodies locked together on the banks of the Rio Grande, where they drowned trying to cross from Mexico into the United States.
Every year the photo editors of The New York Times cull through 365 days of photographs in an attempt to recapture and visually distill the year. The result is this collection of images, a visual chronicle of violence, political power struggles, climate catastrophes, mass shootings and a few poignant scenes of everyday life.
Some stories were obvious in their photographic power. The wildfires that erupted across California seemed urgent and frightening. Blazes destroyed large parts of the Amazon rainforest. And the entire roof of the 850-year-old Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire, and came perilously close to bringing down the medieval structure.
By comparison, Washington’s power struggles mostly eluded the camera. The intrigue that may lead to the impeachment of an American president — the biggest domestic story of this year and probably the next — took place over secret phone calls and behind the closed doors of the Oval Office. Nonetheless, our photographers Doug Mills, Erin Schaff and Damon Winter made subtle and telling images of a process often obscured by political maneuvering and stagecraft.
Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman documented some of the cultural and political power shifts that shook up America’s political leadership in 2019. They posed nearly every woman sworn in to Congress in a historic class of 131, creating a series of portraits of a younger, more diverse group of players vying for influence.
One of the most powerful people in Washington, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, got her own meme when she smiled — or perhaps smirked — as she applauded President Trump’s State of the Union address.
There seemed to be fewer pictures of war than in years past, perhaps because some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts are being waged in harder, more treacherous places to reach. But Tyler Hicks, who has won multiple Pulitzer Prizes, made his third trip into Yemen, the once beautiful country that has become the scene of a dire humanitarian crisis.
“Freedom to witness what’s happening on the ground is so rare,” he said. “So when the chance comes, we make the most of the opportunity.”
Tyler Hicks made his third trip to Yemen since the war began there in 2015. On this trip, he spent time in a hospital to capture the human cost of the conflict.
“On this assignment, I saw more of the humanitarian impact of the war than I had on any of my previous trips there, particularly in northern Yemen, where I took this photograph of a young boy who had lost part of a leg from a land mine explosion. There were also many other children and adults alike who had lost limbs or who continue to lose limbs every day in Yemen. In this case, it’s very difficult when you walk into a clinic and a hospital and there are so many people suffering. You ask yourself: Whom should I photograph? You want to document every case, but that would be impossible.
This boy in particular had a very innocent face and reminded me a lot of any kids that I would see in my own community. And yet he was changed for life by something that he’s absolutely not involved in, and so I chose to focus on him and allow this boy to represent, in this case, all of the other children in the clinic. Oftentimes, it is more effective for a photograph to be specific than it is to try to include a large group. It allows viewers to identify with somebody and interpret that subject and that photograph in their own ways.”
Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman photographed nearly all of the record number of women in the 116th Congress. For the first time, more than 100 women were sworn in to serve in the House of Representatives.
The world is awash in portraits of powerful men. Ms. Herman had this in mind when she was assigned to photograph the women of Congress. She wanted them to appear just as powerful as the men whose photos line boardrooms, statehouses and universities. “Photographing them all like that and presenting them all together,” she said, “was a way of saying we have not seen women occupy these spaces in the past, and that women can occupy these spaces.”
Ms. Sloman said of photographing women on the history-making roster, “I was able to connect and to get them to break down their political facade more than I thought I would be able to.” She photographed some in a studio, but meeting others at home or in their offices offered something different — especially in Washington, she added, where “the energy was kind of charged.”
Doug Mills, a staff photographer based in Washington, was on the House floor for President Trump’s State of the Union address.
In the days and weeks before Mr. Mills took this image, tension had been building between the president and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Mills could sense it in meetings where he had been present. “I kind of felt like something was going to happen between the two of them,” he said. “The clap was a fitting moment for the rest of the year.”
“I had to skate around his periphery and do what I needed to do, which was to make a photograph of him that resonated with me the same way his music does.”
— Devin Yalkin
Jeenah Moon set out to document the annual Westminster Dog Show in New York early in the morning, when the dogs, owners and spectators all made their way to the competition.
“I started getting curious about how the dogs and the owners felt, starting their day early in the morning. As a dog owner, I know it is a bit early to wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. I saw people riding a bus, then a young girl with her mom riding with her big, beautiful English setter. She was sitting in the back of a shuttle bus and her dog was lying down across her knees. I kept watching them. Then I saw her yawn, and her dog fell asleep so I just clicked my shutter, and I felt that was the moment that told the story.”
Adam Dean, who is based in Bangkok, covered attacks in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Christchurch, New Zealand.
“I never expected my first visit to New Zealand to be to cover a mass shooting and terror attack,” he said. He has been back since the immediate aftermath to visit some of the families he met in Christchurch. “While the New Zealand government has done a lot to support them, their struggle continues and will continue to do so now that the media spotlight has moved on.”
“There is a kind of visual language and literacy and responsibility that comes with photographing someone who is in a vulnerable situation, and how do you do it with dignity.”
— Christopher Lee
Ilana Panich-Linsman has spent much of her time at the United States-Mexico border covering breaking news. Coming up with an in-depth project documenting daily life was a change of pace.
“We wanted to show what life was like day to day,” Ms. Panich-Linsman said. She set out for a monthlong assignment to do just that. After witnessing a birthday party on one of the first nights, she decided to focus one element of her project on finding girls who were celebrating their quinceañeras. “Since the piece was published, we’ve gotten really positive feedback from the community,” she said. “I think there’s been a lot of negative attention in that area, and they were grateful for a more holistic representation of everyday life that isn’t so dramatic.”
“They all disappeared into the endless white of ice and snow. The landscape doesn’t offer any perspective at all. I soon faced this white emptiness.”
— Emile Alain Ducke
Esther Horvath set out to photograph a research expedition in the Arctic, armed with specialized training in how to work in extremely cold weather — and even how to mitigate polar bear threats.
“We all know that temperatures in the Arctic increase much faster than anywhere else on the planet. But who are the scientists that are delivering this information, and how do they work and live in one of the most remote locations in the world? This is what I am interested in,” Ms. Horvath said. “Working in freezing temperatures is always challenging for the equipment and physically. I feel extremely connected to the polar regions, especially to the Arctic Ocean. With my photography, I want to raise awareness about the changes affecting the most fragile environment of our planet, which is disappearing in front of our eyes.”
“When I was shooting that night, it was just a particularly heavy scene seeing people grieve on that scale. Being in that space, you could tell he was obviously an incredibly important person to that community. He clearly was seen as such a hero, and people were just ripped apart by it.”
— Alex Welsh
“She had this presence about her. I gravitated toward her, but I kind of adored this strong, very emotionally aware young girl. And everyone around her, I could tell, felt a bit the same. She was kind of this golden child.”
— Adam Ferguson
“I photographed sketchy diamond buyers, a warlord in his living room and another warlord surrounded by armed and drugged child soldiers. But everyday life for people in the Central African Republic is far more dangerous and heartbreaking in camps like these, where people had one set of clothing, little or no access to medical care and barely anything to eat.”
— Ashley Gilbertson
Finbarr O’Reilly covered the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second largest in history.
“I stumbled across the kind of scene that can momentarily catch you off guard — four teenage girls playing trumpets and trombones in a dirt yard adjacent to a half-built church on a hill, on the edge of a town called Beni,” he said. “There was something haunting about that sound in that place. Storm clouds rolled in, as they did most afternoons, and the air became heavy. It seemed to keep the sharp metallic notes from floating too far away. I knew the scene had no direct link to the Ebola story I was reporting, but I shot it anyway, trying not to disturb the girls. I wasn’t sure the image would be published, but I felt the moment was still important. These girls wanted to be better musicians and were rehearsing to improve. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and drama surrounding conflict or a catastrophic epidemic, but such moments represent what’s happening on the ground as much as any scene more obviously related to the Ebola narrative. It’s a quiet reflection of daily life amid an unfolding tragedy.”
Meridith Kohut has been covering the economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela since it began in 2013. The longer the situation lasts, she said, the worse it gets.
In May, economists called the disaster in Venezuela the largest economic collapse outside of war in at least 45 years. An article on the crisis ran on the front page of this newspaper, accompanied by a photograph of a starving child, Anailin Nava. After publication, Ms. Kohut recalled, a nurse hitchhiked to provide medical care for the girl, and a nonprofit started a program to feed all of the at-risk children on the island where she lives. “The most rewarding part of doing this work is when New York Times readers feel compassion for the people whose stories we report — and reach out to help them,” Ms. Kohut said. “We went out to one of the country’s most affected states by the crisis and we went to this island and found a family with a 2-year-old girl who had severe malnutrition.” It was an area far away from big cities and lacking government resources. “Venezuela is the worst that it’s ever been,” she said.
“It was an eerie feeling hearing voices — knowing there were people all around but not being able to see anyone because of the darkness.”
— Whitney Curtis
“They were lifting me off the ground by my backpack and pulling me out of photo opportunities. It was definitely a challenge to be able to make images.”
— Erin Schaff
Brittainy Newman received the first major assignment of her New York Times fellowship, a one-year training program: photographing the Pride parade in New York.
Ms. Newman wanted to get it right and even kept a close eye on the sky to try to follow the trajectory of the falling confetti. She found herself constantly rushing between the parade and quiet places like the lobby of a bank, where she could find a steady internet connection to send in her photos. Then toward the end of the parade, the last shot of her day, she nailed it. “I was so overwhelmed and exhausted,” Ms. Newman said. “I found this couple kissing against scaffolding with the march passing on the other side so they were silhouetted, and that just encapsulated the scene about what the Pride March means.”
Laetitia Vancon traveled to Dobrusa, Moldova, a village with a population of one.
“He was such a sympathetic character — I enjoyed meeting him,” Ms. Vancon said of the last survivor, a farmer named Grisa Muntean.
“He always offered us red wine, from 4 a.m. to 11 at night,” she said. “Because of his loneliness he was really happy to communicate.” The day she photographed this image, she started out at 2: 30 a.m. so she could be in place to capture him collecting vegetables as the sun rose. Then she spent the day with him until the last light. “Everybody was getting exhausted and couldn’t understand what I was waiting for,” she said. “I was waiting and shooting and waiting and shooting until, finally, everything was aligned and he was finishing his last glass of red wine for the day.”
“I was in the middle of the fountain and totally wet, hypnotized by the people.”
— Andrea Mantovani
Tara Todras-Whitehill knew that photographing women at a center in Kazakhstan who had been wives of Islamic State fighters would be delicate.
The center was fenced in, but it had a garden area and a playground so the women and their children found a pleasant environment when they went outside. Some of the women didn’t want to be photographed, but Ms. Todras-Whitehill made a connection with others, including one who spoke English, allowing for an easy flow of dialogue without a translator. “I had more of a conversation with her and spent more time with her during the day and she had several kids there, so she was someone I just kind of followed around,” Ms. Todras-Whitehill said. “I also was able to talk to her,” she said of the direct line of communication, “so that made it easier and also made the women feel better too, because they felt more comfortable.”
Lam Yik Fei was born and raised in Hong Kong and photographed protests that were close to his home and where he had lived as a child.
“The march started out peacefully, but I could sense aggression,” he said. “The protesters were ready for a fight. The police arrested one demonstrator, and others fought back.” Mr. Lam has covered nearly every protest in Hong Kong in recent months. “Suddenly, a firebomb landed in front of me. The police officer in the photo didn’t even realize it had gone off behind him.”
Amber Bracken who is based in Edmonton, Alberta, said she was interested in midwifery in Indigenous communities in Canada and the way it was connected to the idea of sovereignty.
“What’s more hopeful or beautiful than a baby?” Ms. Bracken said. By focusing on midwifery, she added, “there’s a lot of opportunity for telling beautiful stories, uplifting stories about Indigenous communities.” When she visited the Indigenous community in Inukjuak, Quebec, for the first time, she was struck by how welcome many people made her feel. “I was at three different births,” she said, “so for coming in cold to a community I don’t know, that’s a pretty huge welcome.”
Sarah Blesener worried that she would be viewed as an interloper when she showed up with her camera at block parties in New York neighborhoods over the summer. But at one gathering, everyone was particularly welcoming.
“People kept grabbing me and telling me their stories, even about their grandparents growing up there,” Ms. Blesener said. “I was getting worried I had great stories but no images.” Eventually she went to work, trying to capture not just the sights, but also the sounds and smells — things that are hard to visualize but are an important texture of any block party. “I tried to focus on that feeling, the intensity of the music and the food. It’s pretty chaotic — there is so much happening at once — so it works to isolate certain moments.”
Victor Moriyama took two trips to Amazonian cities whose economic development is based on illegal deforestation.
“Covering the fires that erupted throughout the Brazilian Amazon was the longest report of my entire career,” Mr. Moriyama said.
Telling the story of illegal deforestation has always been dangerous. “Brazil has been a violent country since its inception, and we are the bearers of shameful killings of journalists and environmental activists, and in this current government we have seen increased violence against traditional Indigenous peoples,” he said.
For his recent assignment, Mr. Moriyama tried to photograph the fire that consumed the forest from various distances and at different times of the day. “Forest fires are common in various regions of the world and happen annually, but the burning in the Amazon this year sensitized the entire international community,” he said. “Our intention was to show the different aspects that constitute the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and to expand the coverage beyond the burning.”
“I would spend several hours on the beach — the only place without buildings — to get a clear satellite signal.”
— Daniele Volpe
“The way I’ve approached it is to travel around and shoot portraits of daily life, because it’s such a significant moment in time. Every part of the U.K. you go to has a different interpretation of the problem.”
— Andrew Testa
Tomas Munita lives in Santiago, Chile, and regularly works around the world. But in 2019, he covered protests in his own hometown. He called the demonstrations “a sudden and somehow expected awakening.”
“At first glance the violence, destruction of public spaces and looting is quite shocking,” Mr. Munita said. “It will always be. But it is important to understand that we Chileans have seen for decades the looting of our seas, forests, health, universities, indigenous lands, etc., helplessly.” As he photographed the protests, he was shot with rubber bullets and had stones thrown at him on several occasions. But that was hardly surprising, he said, because he was in the middle of battles between protesters and the authorities.
“I held up the camera and started shooting. There was no objection toward me. They kept on harvesting parsley, so I kept on working until the last daylight faded away.”
— Mauricio Lima
Victor Llorente had to wear a hard hat as he wandered around backstage for a weekend of shooting at the Metropolitan Opera.
“It was pretty cool to see how everything works,” he said. He was also trailed by a public relations representative the entire time. He had been using a flash, but removed it right before snapping one last picture just seconds before “Madama Butterfly” began. That image turned out to be the strongest from the shoot. “Right after I took this picture,” he said, “the lights went off and the show started. I was about to see the people in the audience so I had to run away.”
Ivor Prickett has been covering the conflict with the Islamic State for years. So it was a strange feeling to sit down with Islamic State suspects when he and a Times correspondent, Ben Hubbard, were granted access to prisons in Syria.
“They brought us down into the basement where a number of the cells were located, and only two or three of these Kurdish guards were with us, and none of them were armed,” Mr. Prickett said. “They were afraid of being overpowered and then the prisoners getting guns. They opened the door to one of the cells. There was a second where we just looked at each other and wondered, ‘Is this a good idea?’ The guards told us, ‘Just stay close to the door and don’t go too far inside.’”
At a second prison, Mr. Prickett was shocked to find that dozens of children were detained there. “They really became the focus of the story in the end,” he said.
Coming face to face with the adult suspects provoked a range of emotions: animosity, initially, knowing all the acts of violence the men were accused of, and then pity. “It did feel like the last missing piece of this puzzle we’ve been covering for years,” he said.
Max Whittaker is well aware that California allows the news media generous access to wildfires. But that means photographers have to take their safety into their own hands.
Mr. Whittaker has taken training courses and carries all the proper equipment, yet he says he has to make more judgment calls when he covers fires in California than other places with more restricted access. Not only does he have to keep himself safe, but he must be mindful to stay out of the firefighters’ way.
Then there’s the matter of getting to a spot that will make a great photo. “It can take hours to drive from one side to another,” he said. “Much of the driving is done on little, tiny roads where you have to pull over to let oncoming traffic pass.”
Forest fire photos can seem generic, especially as they become a seasonal fixture in California, he said. “I try to capture this larger atmosphere and the vibe, and try to show the scale and the immensity of what firefighters are working against.”
“I had mixed feelings when I saw so many brave young people come out to the street to fight for freedom. Many scenes really touched me, such as the peaceful march that drew millions. I can see the protests become more violent day by day.”
— Lam Yik Fei
Damon Winter has covered national politics at The Times for years, but had not spent many days at the Trump White House. He found that the president’s departures from the South Lawn had turned into a fully organized media event.
“Most days, the president stops in front of this gathering and shouts responses over the idling engines of his waiting helicopter,” Mr. Winter said. But on this day, with open impeachment hearings underway, it was “just a wave of the hand, a slightly grimacing smile and a long, solitary walk to Marine One.”
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