Agency Photographer of Year 2019: Felipe Dana

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The picture desk has chosen Associated Press photojournalist Felipe Dana as its agency photographer of the year. We take a closer look at his work

Felipe Dana’s work in 2019 has taken him all over the world, covering big news stories like the elections in Spain, conflict in Syria, the crisis in Hong Kong, and to Rwanda, Greenland and Algeria to focus on environmental stories. He has regularly featured in our 20 Photos of the Week series and in our daily highlights photography galleries.

Felipe Dana

We asked Dana about his year as a news photographer, his favourite assignments and images.

“2019 was a busy and difficult year in many parts of the world, with political turmoil and massive protests in nearly every continent, never-ending conflicts in the Middle East, the plight of migrants and the climate crisis. With all this happening across the globe, it was an intense year to be a news photographer but that’s also when our job becomes most important.”

Nationalists carry torches at a rally to mark the birthday of Stepan Bandera in Kiev, Ukraine.
  • Nationalists carry torches during a rally to mark the birthday of Stepan Bandera, the founder of a rebel army that fought against the Soviet regime in Kyiv, Ukraine.

“I covered a great variety of stories in 2019, starting with the ultra-right in Ukraine. I then went to Syria to cover war in the last territory held by Islamic State.”

Syria

A woman and her baby, who were evacuated from the last territory held by Isis militants
  • A woman and her baby, who were evacuated from the last territory held by Isis militants.

In February the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces recaptured Isis’s final stronghold. Hundreds of people were evacuated from Baghuz in eastern Syria.

“It’s very hard for me to pick one favourite, single image, but one that strikes me was taken in Syria when I was following the mass evacuations out of the last territory still held by Islamic State militants. There was a screening area in the middle of the desert and that night men, women and children were gathering there, all sitting on the ground. I spotted this woman holding her baby after she was screened by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, it was extremely dark but there was just enough light from a nearby military vehicle. The lighting reflected the dramatic moment she was in.”

Women and children leave the back of a truck, part of a convoy evacuating hundreds out of the last territory held by Isis militants in Baghuz, eastern Syria
  • Women and children leave the back of a truck, part of a convoy evacuating hundreds from the last territory held by Isis militants in Baghuz, eastern Syria, 22 February.
A boy rides in the back of a truck that is part of a convoy evacuating hundreds out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, in Baghouz, eastern Syria
  • A boy rides in the back of a truck, part of a convoy evacuating hundreds out of the last territory held by Isis militants in Baghuz, eastern Syria, 20 February.

Iraq

A woman holds her daughter close as she answers questions by Iraqi soldiers during a raid in Badoush, Iraq, 5 April

A year and a half after Isis was declared defeated in Iraq, a battle continues between surviving members of the group waging an insurgency and the security forces who are relying on intelligence operations, raids and searches for sleeper cells to stamp them out.

Residents watch as local militia and Iraqi army soldiers walk past their home during a raid in Badoush, Iraq, April
  • Residents watch as local militia and Iraqi army soldiers walk past their home during a raid in Badoush, Iraq, April.
Iraqi army 20th division soldiers play soccer in a military base in Badoush, Iraq.
  • Iraqi army 20th division soldiers play football in a military base in Badoush, Iraq.

“Then I went to Iraq, where the group was declared defeated, but sleeping cells still threatened peace. The war against IS [Isis] in Iraq no longer makes headlines but the country still suffers from terror and the consequences of the devastating conflict. I believe it is extremely important to continue revisiting places after a war is declared to be over because life rarely goes back to normal and there are always new issues arising that need just as much coverage.”

Champions

Liverpool players celebrate after winning the Champions League final match against Tottenham Hotspur at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, 2 June, Madrid
  • Liverpool players celebrate after winning the Champions League, beating Tottenham Hotspur.

Dana went to Madrid in June to cover the all-English Champions League final won by Liverpool.

“Although I work mostly shooting features and news stories, a big part of the life of an agency photographer is to shoot sports, so often I’ll help in events like the Champions, World Cup and Olympics.”

Liverpool’s players celebrate after winning the Champions League final soccer match against Tottenham Hotspur at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid, 1 June
  • Liverpool players celebrate after winning the Champions League final.

Albania

The sun sets behind the Vjosa River near Tepelene, Albania
  • The sun sets behind the Vjosa River near Tepelene, Albania.

Felipe visited Albania in June for a feature on the Vjosa River. Rivers are a crucial part of the global water cycle. They act like nature’s arteries, carrying energy and nutrients across vast landscapes, providing water for drinking, food production and industry.

“I spent a few weeks traveling in Albania, documenting one of Europe’s last wild rivers, the Vjosa, where the government has set in motion plans to dam the river and its tributaries to generate electricity for one of Europe’s poorest countries and many locals are fighting that project. I was surprised to learn how few large rivers still run free and how much a dam can impact the local ecosystem.”

Jorgji Ilia, 71, stands on the shore of the Vjosa River after collecting water from a small spring in the village of Kanikol, Albania.
  • Jorgji Ilia, 71, stands on the shore of the Vjosa after collecting water from a small spring in the village of Kanikol, Albania.
Residents sit on the shore of the Vjosa River next to a spring in the Kelcyre Gorge, Albania
  • Residents sit on the shore of the Vjosa next to a spring in the Kelcyre Gorge, Albania, 24 June.

Greenland

A boat navigates icebergs at night in eastern Greenland
  • A boat navigates icebergs at night in eastern Greenland, August.

Dana travelled to Greenland in August and followed a NYU team of scientists who are tracking the climate emergency in Greenland.

“After Albania, I went to Greenland where I followed the work of scientists who are trying to understand the alarmingly rapid melting of the ice. I only had a few days there but the country is so beautiful I decided to make use of the very long days and photograph throughout the night in a unique and bright evening light. It only gets dark for a few hours at that time of the year. The size of the icebergs is really humbling. As amazing as some of them may look in the pictures, I still felt like the photos didn’t do them justice.”

New York University air and ocean scientist David Holland, left, and field safety officer Brian Rougeux, right, are helped by pilot Martin Norregaard as they carry antennas out of a helicopter to be installed at the Helheim glacier, in Greenland. Holland and his NYU team are tracking what’s happening in Greenland from both above and below.
  • Pilot Martin Nørregaard, centre, helps NYU air and ocean scientist David Holland, left, and field safety officer Brian Rougeux, right, carry antennas out of a helicopter to be installed at the Helheim glacier in Greenland.
  • A boat sails next to a large iceberg in eastern Greenland.

Rwanda

Children watch a drone flying near the Volcanoes national park in Kinigi, Rwanda.
  • Children watch a drone flying near the Volcanoes national park in Kinigi, Rwanda.

In September Dana went to Rwanda to investigate how revenue from tourism in Volcanoes national park was being used to fund improvements to local communities. In 2005, the government adopted a model to steer 5% of tourism revenue from Volcanoes to build infrastructure in surrounding villages, including schools and health clinics, and this share was raised to 10% in 2017.

Gorilla trackers Emmanuel Bizagwira, right, and Safari Gabriel observe two gorillas from the Agasha group as they play in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
  • Gorilla trackers Emmanuel Bizagwira, right, and Safari Gabriel observe two gorillas from the Agasha group as they play in the Volcanoes national park, Rwanda, September. Right, a silverback mountain gorilla named Segasira.
A silverback mountain gorilla named Segasira

“I went to Rwanda to the Volcanoes national park where the world’s longest-running gorilla study takes place. It is a beautiful country. I felt extremely lucky to see the stunning mountain gorillas in person. After reaching the park’s entrance in 4×4 cars, we followed local guides up the mountain, reaching an altitude as high as 4,000 metres. I was amazed how the guides and trackers could distinguish between each gorilla within the groups they followed. Their skill came in very handy when I had to identify the animals by name in my captions.”

Children attend class at the Nyabitsinde primary school near the Volcanoes national park in Kinigi, Rwanda.
  • Children attend class at the Nyabitsinde primary school near the Volcanoes national park in Kinigi, Rwanda.

“The money that built this school comes from tourism,” says Fabien Uwimana, a French and English teacher. “More children today can go to school.”

Hong Kong

Protesters huddle together to block a road in Hong Kong
  • Protesters huddle together to block a road in Hong Kong, 4 October.

Dana spent time in Hong Kong covering the pro-democracy protests. We published a gallery of Felipe’s projected and layered portraits of the protesters in October.

A protester, who identified herself as Morty, poses next to broken glass as a projector displays a photograph, taken during the unrest in Hong Kong.
A 24-year-old protester, who identified herself as Kathy, poses as a projector displays a photograph taken during the unrest in Hong Kong
  • Protesters Morty and Kathy pose for portraits as photographs of unrest in Hong Kong are projected over them.

“I also joined the AP team in Hong Kong covering the non-stop protests that are packing the streets almost every day for months now. Although I’m used to covering these kinds of protests, I was impressed by how determined and tireless they are. I was also surprised by how much they appreciated the work of the free press and were actually worried about our safety during the clashes. This respect for our profession and understanding of our role within society is something that unfortunately is becoming rare.”

Protesters wear masks and link their hands forming a human chain during a protest in Hong Kong, 18 October
  • Protesters wear masks and link hands forming a human chain during a protest in Hong Kong, 18 October.
Protesters take cover during a confrontation with police in Hong Kong, 20 October.
  • Protesters take cover during a confrontation with police in Hong Kong, 20 October.

Spain

French police officers remove pro-Catalan independence demonstrators blocking a major highway border pass near La Jonquera between Spain and France, 12 November.
  • French police officers remove pro-Catalan independence demonstrators blocking a major highway border pass near La Jonquera between Spain and France, 12 November.

“In between all these stories, I also helped cover two elections in Spain, and multiple protests in Catalonia throughout the year. In one of the most recent protests in Barcelona I got hit by police with a baton in the face and earned a few stitches on my nose. Luckily it wasn’t too bad, I’ve recovered and am back to work now.”

Police take position during clashes with protesters in Barcelona, Saturday, 26 October
  • Police take position during clashes with protesters in Barcelona, 26 October.
Police officers apprehend two men during a protest by Catalan pro-independence demonstrators outside the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, 18 December. Thousands of Catalan separatists protested around and inside Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium during Wednesday’s match against fierce rival Real Madrid.
  • Police officers apprehend two men during a protest by Catalan pro-independence demonstrators outside the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, 18 December.
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