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Bulent Kilic: TIME Picks the Best Wire Photographer of 2014

Amidst a turbulent year, Bulent Kilic's photographs have consistently grabbed the attention of editors and viewers around the world

Wire photographers often work in the shadows — their names frequently overlooked in favor of their agencies’ monikers, from Agence France-Presse to Associated Press, Getty Images to Reuters, and many others.

For the past five years, TIME has turned the spotlight on these men and women who put everything on the line to bring us the news, to document what might otherwise go unseen. Their images have adorned the front pages of newspapers and covers of magazines around the world. Among these photographers, a handful of names repeatedly emerge from the fray.

Getty’s John Moore proved, once again, that he remains one of the best wire photographers out there, producing some of the most heart-wrenching and iconic images of this year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa, where about 7,000 people have died. Oliver Weiken of European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) made a name for himself as well, documenting, early on, the African refugee crisis in Israel. In the summer, he made the long walk into Gaza — his third visit since October 2012 — where he produced an impressive series of images depicting the scale of the destruction in the coastal enclave during the seven-week war between Palestinian militant groups and Israel’s defense forces.

There’s no doubt we’ll see more of Moore and Weiken in 2015, but, when it comes to 2014, the year without a doubt belonged to AFP photographer Bulent Kilic.

The 35-year-old Turkish photographer, who joined the agency in 2003, systematically found himself at the heart of the news in Ukraine and Turkey all year. His striking, vivid and memorable images have captured the attention of photo editors across the planet, especially in October when he caught the exact moment when militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) were the target of an air strike near the contested Syrian town of Kobani.

For the last two months, however, Kilic has kept a low profile, working in Istanbul on local stories. “I was exhausted,” he says. “When I was covering the clashes in Kobani on the Syrian border, I would be driving every day, leaving the hotel at 5 a.m. and only coming back late at night.” That’s not the most ideal situation for a married photographer of an infant boy. “When you go on an assignment for many weeks or even months at a time, you have to find time to stay at home,” says the married photographer, who became the father of a boy this year.

Kilic’s busy year started in Ukraine where the pro-European protests took a turn for the worse in January and February. “I was sitting at home with my family, watching the television when I saw all of this black smoke in Kiev,” he says. “The photos [coming out of Ukraine] looked incredible.”

He asked his editors in Paris to go. “When I arrived in Kiev, the demonstrations were in their third month. It was still ongoing. I expected the situation to take a long time to develop.” Just hours later, Independence Square (known as Euromaidan), which had been overtaken by protesters, was a war zone, with pro-government forces firing on the crowd.

Bulent Kilic TIME 2014 Wire Photographer of the Year
Bulent Kilic (center), TIME’s 2014 Wire Photographer of the Year, in Turkey. Yasin Akgul

There’s no doubt in Kilic’s mind: his work in Ukraine stands out as one the best assignments he’s ever had. “You could just feel the emotions of thousands of people around you,” he says. “It felt good. The demonstrators were singing and chanting and I was there with them.”

But not everything went smoothly. Kilic had never been to Ukraine before, and he didn’t know how people would react to his work, especially when protesters started dying at the hand of pro-government snipers. “In the Arab world, people let you photograph people who have just been shot,” he says. “In Ukraine, I didn’t know what people would do.” So, he tried. “I saw this man die in front of me. I tried to photograph him, but his friends didn’t let me. They don’t like this kind of images.”

After a month in Ukraine, Kilic flew back to Istanbul, thinking he would be able to take a few days off. That’s when 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who had been in a coma after being hit by a gas canister in the June 2013 street protests, died. “I felt that I needed to shoot this situation,” he says. “It was my responsibility, and I didn’t ask for any time off and just went to photograph the boy’s funeral.”

Over the following months, his images were again on front pages worldwide when 301 people died in the explosion and resulting fire at the Soma coal mine in Manisa, Turkey. “This was one of the biggest tragedies in Turkish history,” says Kilic. “I was there before other media organizations, and that’s when I took this picture of a man [kissing his son] when he came out of the mine. This was a very important photograph for me.”

Working around the mine wasn’t easy, though. “Some miners and their families were attacking the press,” he says. “You have to understand, their children, their husbands were trapped in the mine.” Kilic was targeted twice, necessitating police intervention to calm the crowd. But the photographer was unfazed. “You have to find a way to continue working,” he says. “You have to control the situation, but you shouldn’t stop.”

And Kilic never stopped working. On Sept. 15, he was driving home after a soccer game when an unexpected message came on the radio. “I heard a call for all Kurdish people to go to the border with Syria to save Kobani. I thought it wasn’t normal, and I felt something unusual was going on.”

He called his editors, booked his plane ticket to the region and the next day, he was on a Turkish hill in Yumurtalik overlooking Kobani, offering a direct view of the fighting between Kurdish forces and ISIS. “I thought this was going to be a very big story.” He wasn’t wrong. On Oct. 23, as Kilic learned that militants had planted their flag atop another hill, he rushed to find a villager that would allow him on the roof of their houses. “It was getting dark, and that’s when the bomb dropped.” Using a 400mm lens with a 1.7 converter, Kilic captured a series of four frames that showed the jaw-dropping explosion. The image has since appeared in most media organizations’ selections of the best photos of the year – including TIME’s Top 100.

“A lot of people ask me if it was easy to see these people killed in front of me. They ask me if I felt something,” says Kilic. “It wasn’t easy. But this is war, and these people are also killing other people. Sometimes, you can’t really feel anything. Sometimes, you don’t want to talk about it.”

Speaking matter-of-factly, “this is my life,” he says. “I chose this many years ago, and I’m still [learning] and trying to find my style. I’m a student of Yuri Kozyrev, James Nachtwey, Josef Koudelka, Robert Capa and Larry Burrows. I’ve been watching their work for many years to get a stronger vision. I can’t say that I’ve found it, but it’s starting to feel right.”

And with the support of his family — “they know I like this life and this job, and they respect it,” — and from AFP, Kilic is looking forward to 2015. “I don’t know where I’ll be going next. Maybe I’ll be back in Ukraine. But one thing I’ve learned in this job is that you have to be ready at all times.”

Bulent Kilic is a photographer with Agence France-Presse. He is TIME’s Wire Photographer of 2014. Previous winners include Muhammed Muheisen in 2013, Marco Longari in 2012, Pete Muller in 2011, and Mauricio Lima in 2010.

Phil Bicker, who edited this photo essay, is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME Civil Rights

NYPD Cancels Holiday Parties as Protests Continue

Protesters Stage Nationwide Marches In Wake Of Recent Grand Jury Decisions
NYPD officers stand guard during the National March Against Police Violence, which was organized by National Action Network, at One Police Plaza on December 13, 2014 in New York City. Kena Betancur—Getty Images

Protest leaders are meeting with the Mayor on Friday.

New York City police are canceling or postponing their holiday parties as protests over the death of Eric Garner become almost a nightly occurrence.

DNAinfo New York, a local news source, reports that police precincts don’t want to risk taking officers off the streets as the protests continue across the city two weeks after a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in Garner’s death.

At least two thirds of the precincts had canceled their festivities, which the police pay for themselves, according to DNAinfo. Some will be rescheduled for January — if the protests have subsided by then.

[DNAinfo]

TIME Crime

This Time-Lapse Shows the Massive Turnout for New York’s March Against Police Violence

25,000 people were estimated to attend the march on Saturday

Thousands of people took to the streets of New York City on Saturday to demonstrate against police violence in the wake of several deadly confrontations this year between officers and unarmed black citizens. This time-lapse video, made at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 29th Street in Manhattan, shows demonstrators marching over a 90-minute period. Authorities estimated that more than 25,000 people marched in New York on Saturday, police told the New York Times, while thousands more held a similar protest in Washington, D.C.

TIME Crime

See an Undercover Cop Draw His Gun on Protesters in Oakland

An undercover police officer, who had been marching with anti-police demonstrators, aims his gun at protesters after some in the crowd attacked him and his partner in Oakland
An undercover police officer aims his gun at protesters after some in the crowd attacked him and his partner in Oakland, Calif. on Dec. 10, 2014. Noah Berger—Reuters

Police said more than 100 demonstrators marched through Oakland and Berkeley, which has a history of social activism

An undercover police officer, who had been marching with demonstrators, aims his gun at protesters after some in the crowd attacked him and his partner in Oakland, California on Wednesday.

Police said more than 100 demonstrators marched through Oakland and Berkeley, which has a history of social activism, to protest grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men. Under cloudy skies, turnout was smaller than earlier in the week, when demonstrators in the area threw rocks at police and shut down a major freeway…

Read the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Police Arrest Prominent Radicals in Home Raids

Police & Bailiffs Move In To Clear Hong Kong Protest Sites After Seven Weeks of Demonstrations
Activist Wong Yeung-tat attends a protest at the Occupy Mongkok Occupy site on Nov. 21, 2014, in Hong Kong. He was arrested on Dec. 11 on multiple charges of unlawful assembly Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

Swoop nets head of the populist pro-democracy group Civic Passion, among others

Hong Kong police on Wednesday and Thursday arrested several dissidents at or near their homes, as authorities concurrently prepared to clear the city’s main protest camp.

Wong Yeung-tat, head of the anti-Beijing organization Civic Passion, was arrested near his home at 1 p.m. on Thursday on 59 counts of unlawful assembly, according to his party’s news outlet.

Home arrests on Wednesday included: Alvin Cheng, the leader of a hard-line group, Student Front, which rejects nonviolence; Anthony So, a member of People Power, a far-left political party; and Raphael Wong, vice chairman of the League of Social Democrats.

The three arrests, on suspicion of unlawful assembly, were reported by the government-funded Radio Television Hong Kong.

Civic Passion is perhaps the most recognizable of the vocal, insistent groups at the fringes of Hong Kong’s democratic movement. It has had choice words not just for the government, but for the protest’s unofficial student leaders, accusing them of timidity in confronting the government for the right to free and fair elections here.

The spate of arrests shortly preceded the arrival of police at the protest camp in Admiralty district, where they began dismantling the sprawling tent settlement. Protesters have spent more than two months in the camp to seek, against tough odds, the right to freely elect the city’s head of government.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Main Democracy Protest Camp Falls With Leading Protest Figures Arrested

But demonstrators say that their 75-day occupation is just the start of a push for greater freedom

Authorities arrested leading figures in Hong Kong’s democracy movement while clearing the city’s largest protest camp on Thursday, putting an end to a 75-day street occupation that has been a flashpoint for a bitter confrontation between pro-democracy protesters and the Hong Kong authorities, as well as the central government in Beijing.

Police brusquely tore down hundreds if not thousands of tents in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district, enforcing an injunction won by a local bus company against the protesters, who have been blocking some of Hong Kong Island’s most vital roads. The occupation of the upscale commercial district — which is also home to government offices and the local military headquarters — was the main push of a student-led protest calling for free elections.

Officers made numerous arrests from a group of about a hundred demonstrators staging a final sit-in near the local Chinese People’s Liberation Army base, including prominent democratic legislators Emily Lau, Martin Lee and Alan Leong. Police also arrested high-profile protest personalities Jimmy Lai, a media mogul; Denise Ho, a popular singer; and Audrey Eu, a former lawmaker.

In a methodical process that took hours, officers led the arrested protesters one by one to police vans and carried out those who refused to walk. Student protest leader Alex Chow, who rallied the crowd over a microphone as the group awaited arrest, was among the last protesters escorted by police out of the former protest site on Thursday night.

Hundreds of other protesters filed out of the camp through designated exits on Thursday afternoon, turning over required identification information to police as they left. One officer said the information was needed “for our follow-up, because this is an unlawful assembly.” Police had reiterated on Wednesday that the street occupations were illegal and that anyone still on the streets during the clearance risked arrest.

Most protesters said Thursday morning that they had returned to the camp not to resist the clearance, but to witness what they called the beginning of another era in a long-term democratic movement.

“This is definitely not the end of the movement,” lawmaker Leong told TIME just hours before his arrest. “With this awakening of the Hong Kong people, we have sown the seeds for the next wave of the democratization movement.”

Chow, the student leader who was later arrested, told reporters before the clearing that he was “very optimistic that people will be coming out again.” “People in Hong Kong have changed,” he said.

Workers began demolition at the camp’s periphery at around 10:30 a.m., cutting and sawing at barricades fashioned from bamboo poles and crowd-control barriers that had been seized from police in the early days of the so-called Umbrella Revolution. Facing them was 12-year-old student, Jimmy Chow — exemplifying the youth of many of the demonstrators, among whom high school students in uniform have been frequently seen. He was poised to launch a paper airplane on which he had written that the government was “criminal,” but under the gaze of bailiffs decided not to throw it.

Nearby, workers pulled down a barricade with a banner reading, “It’s just the beginning” — words of defiance from the protesters, but a phrase that could be equally read as a warning to them from the demolition crews forming on Connaught Road.

Though the injunction covered just part of the protest site, police had also said they would dismantle the entire camp on Thursday afternoon. For the most part, they met little resistance in disassembling a formerly neat encampment into a sprawl of tarps and spare wood. Many demonstrators had left before police began their clearance, packing up the boxes of crackers and cakes that have fed this movement, rolling up their sleeping mats, and leaving the streets behind.

It was also an injunction won by transport companies that quickly felled a protest encampment last month in Mong Kok, a blue-collar neighborhood in the heart of the Kowloon peninsula. Demonstrators in Admiralty said that they were powerless to prevent the new clearance and wondered what was next.

“I feel hopeless,” says Kevin Choi, 26, an engineer, dismounting a skateboard he was riding through the increasingly sparse protest site. “There’s no direction after this.”

Yet some protesters said that they were, in other ways, stronger then ever.

“I don’t think we can stop the police,” said Frank Cho, 21, a student sitting on a concrete highway divider, just before the teardown began. But, he continued, “In two or three months, we will come out with bigger numbers and stronger faith.”

Since late September, Admiralty district has served as the heart of the pro-democracy movement. It has been home to a village of tents whose color and size have been in stark opposition to the grey, titanic government headquarters looming near them, yet whose smoothness of operation would be the pride of any civil servant.

The village has been an incubator to a generation of politicized Hong Kongers. Yet it had fallen on hard times in recent weeks. The weather turned wet and cold. Numbers that had, in October, reached the tens of thousands bottomed out to the hundreds by November. Morale fell further when student leader Joshua Wong — one of TIME’s Most Influential Teens for 2014 — and other students began a hunger strike then quietly ended it after failing to move po-faced government officials to restart talks. By the time Wong called off his fast, at 108 hours, he was in a wheelchair.

Numbers returned in the past couple of days as Hong Kongers came to say farewell to what has become one of the most significant sites in their history — and may one day prove to be one in China’s too. Many took photos and videos of the posters, the people, and the protest art and other landmarks found throughout the village, which protesters called Umbrella Square.

Some carried on as usual, diligently tending to homework in the tarpaulin-covered study area. Others just draped their elbows over the flyovers that have been popular lookout points, watching and waiting. The Lennon Wall, an internationally recognized expanse of concrete that had, for the past 75 days, borne brightly colored Post-it notes of support from all over the world, was stripped almost bare, its messages to be archived by volunteers.

The night before the teardown, protesters had flung yellow confetti and glitter into the air, celebrating a beginning, not an end. At the far reaches of Harcourt Road, the tarmac was still thickly strewn with it, and it glittered in the weak early morning sun of Thursday. Chalked, posted and hung on banners everywhere was the promise “We’ll be back.”

— With reporting by Rishi Iyengar, David Stout and Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Remaining Protest Sites Are About to Be Cleared

Demonstrators Continue to Occupy Streets In Hong Kong
A man is silhouetted walking past tents on a flyover in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Dec. 9, 2014. Pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong are bracing for police to clear part of their main protest site in two days following a court order to reopen roads that have been occupied for more than two months Bloomberg/Getty Images

Leaders of the mostly student demonstrators said they will continue to observe nonviolence when police arrive

Authorities in Hong Kong are set to clear pro-democracy protesters’ main encampment in Admiralty district this week, hoping to put an effective end to more than two months of street occupations.

An official order made by Hong Kong’s High Court to largely clear the area went into effect after being posted in local newspapers on Tuesday. It was made when a local bus company won an injunction against the protesters, who are demanding free elections for China’s most international city.

The order applies to most — but not all — of the protesters’ camp on major roads abutting the Hong Kong government’s colossal central offices and the headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army. But it is widely expected that hundreds if not thousands of police will take advantage of the order to remove the entire camp, as well as clear a smaller protest site in the nearby Causeway Bay district.

“Obviously some people will still be there no matter what,” Paul Tse, a lawyer representing the bus company, tells TIME. “But we are trying to appeal to them to comply with the order.”

A similar injunction, also brought by local transport companies calling foul over the traffic disruption, brought an end to a third protest encampment in Mong Kok — a blue-collar neighborhood, and shopping hub for all things advertised in neon, located in the heart of the Kowloon peninsula. Police and municipal workers met little resistance in methodically tearing down the barricades and rows of tents, though protesters have returned to the neighborhood on recent nights, marching down the sidewalks and raising their hands in Hunger Games–inspired salutes.

Student protest leader Joshua Wong has urged demonstrators to remain similarly peaceful during the expected clearance of the Admiralty camp. One of TIME’s Most Influential Teens for 2014, Wong recently ended a 108-hour hunger strike over the government’s refusal to hold talks.

Since late September, the main protest encampment has been a community of impressive orderliness, where demonstrators have staged concerts and rallies, outfitted their tents against unruly weather, and repurposed almost all available surfaces into galleries for protest art. Momentum for the pro-democracy cause has been sustained by a never-ending supply of resonant symbols, chiefly umbrellas, which protesters have used to defend themselves from pepper spray, and which have now become a common motif of paintings and sculptures.

At the same time, much of the tent city’s original brio has been sapped by the more than two months of waiting to see tangible results. Protesters are seeking the right to vote for the head of the city’s government, known as the chief executive, without the central government in Beijing screening the candidates through a pro-establishment committee.

Hong Kong’s current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, has ruled out dialogue with protest leaders and frequently reiterated that elections in this former British colony must be in accordance with the Basic Law, the city’s miniconstitution, promulgated upon its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

The student groups at the forefront of the protests, the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism, recently weighed, but decided against, retreating from the Admiralty camp, where numbers have dwindled markedly in recent days.

TIME apps

See Uber Protests From Around the World

As Uber expands around the world, the rideshare service has found tough opponents in city governments, taxi drivers and even its own employees, who have faulted the company for deregulating an industry protected by strict laws

TIME Crime

Violence Erupts for 2nd Night in California Protest

Protesters tried to light a patrol vehicle on fire and threw rocks, bottles and an explosive at officers

(BERKELEY, CALIF.) — A second night of protest against police killings in Missouri and New York turned violent again in Berkeley as some demonstrators threw explosives at officers, assaulted each other and shut down a freeway, police said.

Sunday’s protest began peacefully on the University of California, Berkeley campus. But as protesters marched through downtown Berkeley toward the neighboring city of Oakland, someone smashed the window of a Radio Shack. When a protester tried to stop the vandalism, he was hit with a hammer, Officer Jennifer Coats said.

Some of the protesters made their way to a freeway in Oakland and blocked traffic. The California Highway Patrol said some tried to light a patrol vehicle on fire and threw rocks, bottles and an explosive at officers. Highway patrol officers responded with tear gas.

The highway patrol said it was making arrests but no figures were available.

The demonstrations were the latest of several in Oakland, where activism is strong, and elsewhere in the Bay Area in recent days to protest grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York not to indict while police officers in the deaths of two black men.

On Saturday night, three officers and a technician were hurt and six people were arrested when a similar protest turned unruly. The most serious injury was a dislocated shoulder, Berkeley police said.

The demonstrations were the latest of several in the Bay Area — and the nation — in recent days to protest grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York not to indict while police officers in the deaths of two black men.

Seven people were arrested in Seattle Saturday night after protesters threw rocks at police and attempted to block a highway. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been calling for calm while activists push for police reforms. NAACP president Cornell William Brooks, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” called for outfitting police with body-worn cameras and changing law enforcement policy.

“We have to change the model of policing,” Brooks said.

Ohio’s Republican governor said the unrest underscores the need for political leaders to be inclusive and to unite, not divide.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said on ABC’s “This Week” that a “significant percentage” of the country believes the system’s not working for them and can be working against them.

“They need to be listened to and they need to be responded to,” Kasich said. “In our country today, there’s too much division, too much polarization — black, white; rich, poor; Democrat, Republican. America does best when we’re united.”

The unrest in Berkeley follows violent disruptions of demonstrations in San Francisco and Oakland in recent days. Five San Francisco police officers sought medical treatment after sustaining injuries during a protest in downtown San Francisco on Black Friday.

On Saturday night, protesters broke away from a peaceful demonstration and began throwing rocks, bottles and pipes at officers.

Scores of law officers from several surrounding agencies joined the Berkeley Police Department in trying to quell unrest that went on for hours.

Coats said several businesses on University Avenue were vandalized, including Trader Joe’s, Radio Shack and a Wells Fargo Bank branch. She said demonstrators threw wrenches, smoke grenades and other objects at officers, and some squad cars were damaged.

She said officers attempting to get the crowd to depart used tear gas.

“Several dispersal orders have been given, and the crowd has ignored the orders. In response to the violence, officers have utilized tear gas and smoke in an effort to disperse the crowd,” she said.

Local media reports said about 300 to 400 people participated in the relatively peaceful demonstration before splinter groups broke off.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that at one point, the marchers were face to face with a line of about 100 police in riot gear who turned the crowd back.

The newspaper said that it wasn’t just protesters who were hit by tear gas.

Several concerts had let out from downtown sites and concertgoers waiting to pay in a nearby garage were enveloped in a cloud of stinging gas, sending them running into elevators.

KCBS reported that police closed two Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter train stations along the protestroute.

Protesters had planned to march from the University of California, Berkeley, campus to Oakland’s Civic Center.

TIME justice

Prominent Ferguson Protester Charged With Assault

Obama Holds Meeting On Building Trust In Communities After Ferguson Unrest
Rasheen Aldridge, second left, listens to President Barack Obama at the conclusion of a meeting with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Charles Ramsey and other elected officials, community and faith leaders and law enforcement officials on Dec. 1, 2014 in Washington D.C. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

The youngest member of the Ferguson Commission has been charged with assault for allegedly pushing a city marshal during a demonstration

A young Ferguson protester who has been tapped to help study the issues afflicting the city was charged with assault on Thursday over an incident outside St. Louis’s city hall last week.

Rasheen Aldridge is accused of pushing a city marshal during a demonstration in which protesters squared off against law enforcement as they tried to enter the building, the St. Louis Dispatch reports. Aldridge has said that he didn’t see the marshal get pushed by any of the protesters.

Aldridge, 20, faces a misdemeanor charge for the incident, which was caught on video. He’s the youngest member of the Ferguson Commission, a group of community members assembled by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to study the social issues in the city that have contributed to the protests. The members of the commission, including Aldridge, visited Washington Monday to meet President Obama.

[St. Louis Dispatch]

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