From the protests convulsing Hong Kong to that exchange between US first lady Melania Trump and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Reuters photographers covered the biggest news stories of 2019, as well as capturing some the moments that went viral.
Beyond the images themselves, these are the inside stories of the men and women behind the lens and their experiences in the line of duty. Below is a selection of some exceptional 2019 Reuters pictures along with the stories of how they came to be, directly from the photographers who took them.
Jose Luis Gonzalez: “Ledy Perez fell to her haunches, a clenched hand covering her face as she wept, an arm clutching her 6-year old son, who glared defiantly at the Mexican National Guard soldier blocking them from crossing the Rio Grande into the United States.
I captured the plight of this mother and son, who had travelled 1,500 miles from Guatemala to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, only to be stopped mere feet from the US.
The woman begged and pleaded with the National Guard to let them cross to a better future for Anthony Diaz. The soldier, dressed in desert fatigues, an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, only said he was following orders. Her face was a small reflection of all migrants’ suffering.
One of several images Reuters published, this photo was picked up widely on social media. It has thrown into the spotlight the role Mexico’s militarised National Guard police force is playing in containing migration.
The soldier displayed no overt aggression during the nine-minute encounter with Ms Perez and her son. Still, the power dynamics apparent in the image resonated with criticism of the treatment migrants are receiving.
Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who retweeted my picture after it was posted by a former Mexican ambassador to the United States wrote: ‘What a pity, Mexico should never have accepted this.’
Seizing the opportunity when the soldier glanced away, Ms Perez lunged into the shrubs growing on the side of the river bank, pulling her son with her. They quickly ran across to the other side of the river and out of the guardsmen’s jurisdiction, where US Customs and Border Protection agents took them into custody.”
Carlos Jasso: “The Dakar Rally is a race like no other, a two-week long endurance challenge across Peru in some of the harshest terrain and conditions on Earth. The event spanned thousands of kilometres with motorcycles, cars and trucks racing across vast deserts and towering dunes, from the Andes to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
As a photographer, I had good access with the helicopter. I wore a harness attached to the helicopter, with the door open in order to shoot.
I like the abstract images best – the detail created by a motorcycle accelerating, the sand thrown up and combined with beautiful light so that it looks almost like a wave. You must have the camera exposures pre-set to be ready for the action, but the light is constantly shifting as clouds move across the sky. You point the camera and expose for the highlights and hope the vehicle comes into the frame and drives between the shadows of the clouds.
You start reading the dunes ahead of reaching them. ‘Now it’s beautiful golden light, I’m going to shoot a landscape.’ Or ‘Now there are great shadows, I’m going to play with that.’
Everything can change so quickly. Every choice you make is a gamble – the exposure you set, the dune you choose to climb.”
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa: “Two weeks after a tear gas canister struck Mohammad An-Najjar’s right eye during a Gaza border protest, the 12-year-old boy learned he will never see through it again. The doctor who treated him said his retina was damaged beyond repair in the incident, the aftermath of which I captured on camera.
It had been one of the quietest weeks in nine months of Gaza border protests, when Mohammad and his friends went to their nearest border protest site, as they often did on the weekend. He said he did not take part in throwing stones or rolling burning tyres.
When I arrived on the scene, I took up position at what felt like a safe distance. As the clashes between Gaza protesters and Israeli troops intensified, I switched between lenses for distance shots and close-ups and began taking images. Some protesters covered their faces with T-shirts to protect themselves against tear gas as others ran away.
The first I knew that something happened was when people began shouting, ‘An injury, an injury.’ I continued to shoot pictures. A man was carrying a boy in his arms, and blood was coming from the boy’s eye as he screamed. I was muttering to myself in shock even as I continued to shoot. I knew he had lost an eye.
His mother, Lamia Abu Harb, hopes that he will be permitted to cross through checkpoints into Israel for medical treatment beyond what Gaza can offer.”
Baz Ratner: “I dumped my motorbike next to the front gate of the upmarket Dusit hotel complex in Nairobi. I entered the first building with armed police. A boobytrap hand grenade rolled out from behind a door. Luckily it did not explode.
Kenya’s paramilitary General Services Unit ran in through the front gate and I ran with them to the second building. The GSU started to help civilians from the first floor to safety. While the GSU was escorting one of these groups, officer Ali Kombo formed a line of civilians behind him. When he got in front of the hotel, he pointed his rifle at the hotel where the militants were holed up. I positioned myself between the group and a wall and took a few pictures. His face would later be splashed all over local media, making him a national hero.
I managed to stay inside the building even though other journalists were cleared out. There were a few foreign security operators wearing body armour – as was I – so maybe I blended in. If someone agreed to speak to a journalist, I’d call the office and let them do the interview. I also collected phone numbers we were able to use later to reconstruct the attack. People were speaking freely to me because I had a spare battery pack, and everyone needed to charge their phones – including the police. It took all night to free the trapped civilians.”
Dylan Martinez: “We have a great team of photographers in Gaza whose main task is to photograph the clashes between Israel and Gaza. My remit was to do pretty much anything but that.
It was in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of the Gaza border protests, which had opened a deadly new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that I visited Gaza for the first time. My assignment was to use my unfamiliar eyes to record life beyond the daily drumbeat of violence in the blockaded Palestinian territory.
Accompanied by a Reuters assistant photographer from Gaza City, I travelled the strip, photographing it at every hour of the day and night over a 10-day period. One of the most powerful scenes was a patch of waste land between a school and a mosque where children were playing. These kids were burning some cardboard, they were in trenches and throwing sand balls, so they weren’t hurting each other. I asked them what they were doing, and they said, ‘We are playing Jews and Arabs.’ That image will stay with me forever.”
Athit Perawongmetha: “I was assigned to cover Kim Jong-un’s arrival by train in Dong Dang – the border town between Vietnam and China. I covered the North Korean leader’s first nuclear summit with Donald Trump in Singapore, so I knew access would be difficult.
I arrived in Dong Dang two days before the arrival of Mr Kim and preparations were tricky – undercover police officers stopped me every time I pulled out my camera. One day before his arrival I, along with the world’s media, began negotiating with media liaison officers about staking out the best spots. No one had approval from security yet.
We positioned ourselves 70 metres opposite the gate of the train station. Producers sent their assistants to buy ladders. I rushed back to my hotel and borrowed one – but Japan’s and Korea’s were higher. By the afternoon no one dared abandon their spot. His expected arrival was early morning, so we camped outside the Dong Dang train station in the cold next to a wall of ladders.
When he arrived, Mr Kim shook hands with Vietnamese delegates and waved to the media as he exited the train station. The level of access was unprecedented. After he got into his limousine, I no longer had a good vantage point from my ladder, so I instinctively ran to the side of his car which was surrounded by bodyguards. Just before the window closed, I captured his expression. I called it ‘Kim Jong-un’s Mona Lisa smile’.”
Temilade Adelaja: “The boy lay wide-eyed on a bed of outstretched arms. The men who carried him, and others looking on, cheered at the sight of the youngster who seconds earlier had been pulled from the rubble of a four-storey building that collapsed in Lagos.
Nine-year-old Ademola Ayanbola had been in a classroom on the top floor. He emerged with his face caked in white dust from the rubble and a bloody graze on the side of his head. His eyes were open, so we knew he was alive. He wasn’t shouting or crying. He was so calm. People were shouting: ‘There’s a child.’ The men who surrounded him were rescue workers, residents and ‘area boys’ – youths who roam parts of Lagos in gangs.
The boy’s father, Francis Ayanbola, had feared he would never see his son alive again. ‘When I got there everything was flat,’ he said. ‘I was just crying. I was expecting the death of my son.’ A friend eventually called Mr Ayanbola to tell him his child was being treated at a hospital. ‘When I finally held my son, I was so excited, I was so happy. It wasn’t my son’s dead body that I would have to carry,’ he said.”
Thomas Nicolon: “I slept overnight with the poachers in the forest. The sun had risen above the canopy; there was still fog over the river and the hunters were packing their dugout canoes ready to leave.
That day we would go back to the city of Mbandaka after spending four days in the rainforest hunting bushmeat. The monkey that had been killed the day before was hanging from a tree above the water, in order to prevent ants from eating it. Its baby had been crying all night. They would eat it a few hours later.
I grabbed my camera and got closer to the dead monkey. I wanted to show the reality of hunting. Hours earlier the monkey had been swinging from branch to branch, high up in the trees, a symbol of Congo’s rich biodiversity. By morning it was just flesh. It had been disembowelled, and was now a symbol of Congo’s empty forests.”
Hannah McKay: “We had been waiting for Julian Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years. Every now and then there would be a rumour that he was leaving and we would scramble to Knightsbridge, but nothing.
When the news broke that Assange had been taken into custody I was in Downing Street. I rushed to Westminster Magistrates’ Court in case he was taken there. A Reuters colleague got an exclusive image of him leaving the police station, and let me know that Assange would be in the second van in the convoy.
When the police vans arrived it was pandemonium. The photographers and TV crews surged forward as police tried to hold us back. One officer lunged towards me. I darted to the left and shot a few frames. To be honest, I was quite surprised I got the shot.
Shooting through tinted glass is a bit of a skill. You had to jam your lens as close to the window of the moving vehicle as possible and fire the flash to illuminate through the glass. I’ve been told that the picture is reminiscent of an oil painting. That’s partly due to the colour of the tinted window, and partly because the image isn’t entirely sharp!”
Benoit Tessier: “I was covering Vivendi’s AGM when I was directed to Notre Dame because it was on fire. When I arrived, this was the first image I saw – the cathedral going up in smoke.
I could not have imagined the fire would be so big or spread so quickly. It is difficult to find your way on the crowded sidewalks around the cathedral. This image was taken with a 24-70mm lens at about 400m from the scene.
Thousands of Parisians and tourists from around the world came to see the fire with their own eyes. I remember two emotional young women in shock standing next to me. We couldn’t even imagine the damage inside at that stage. The phone network was saturated and sending a photo was a nightmare. It was an urban landscape that was being transformed by this partial destruction. A symbol burned that day.”
Manaure Quintero: “The May Day protest in Caracas started with a failed coup attempt by the opposition leader. The day passed filled with teargas, rubber bullets, stones, Molotov cocktails and live bullets.
In the afternoon officials detained a protester carrying a handmade mortar. We ran towards the detained protestor to photograph him. The national guard told us to move away but a local TV journalist, Gregory Jaimes, didn’t heed the warning. At that point, the national guard took the protestor’s device, activated it and threw it at Gregory’s feet.
When the explosion occurred, he didn’t realise his jaw had been hit by shrapnel until he spit blood inside his gas mask. Many journalists, including me, ran towards him to help. Several colleagues carried him and a dozen more stayed close by. It was only at that point that I took my camera and shot several frames. Fortunately, he recovered.”
Gonzalo Fuentes: “The May Day labour union march in Paris was joined by the Yellow Vest protestors and the Black Bloc – anti-globalisation anarchists who wore black clothes and covered their faces.
Following several months of Yellow Vest demonstrations, the challenge was to avoid an image repeat. I walked in the march until I identified a small group of Black Bloc who were trying to blend in. Walking next to them for a while allowed me to feel those little tensions that usually precede a clash.
A couple of hours later I followed a police tactical unit on the move and decided to stay close to them which led me to a confrontation. However, the crowd suddenly moved, and I found myself standing between the police and the demonstrators at the exact moment an officer pointed a teargas canister to disperse activists.
I was there with my camera pointing at him and without thinking I took the picture. Luckily the police officer never fired his teargas canister as the demonstrator was arrested. It wasn’t until I saw the image in my camera that I realised I was standing too close to the clash. As photojournalists we try to blend in with the crowd to work. But protestors do this too – pretending to be media by using cameras to approach the police.”
A reporter had jokingly said before the event started that he had been in touch with the fast food shops to ask if milkshakes were available. At first, nobody knew what had been thrown at Farage. There was chaos as his handlers tried to whisk Farage away as quickly as possible. He was bundled into a nearby taxi and his city visit cut short.
I was lucky enough have been using a 16-35mm lens to catch the reaction on Farage’s face and his security grabbing hold of the man who had thrown the milkshake.”