Marco Longari: TIME Picks 2012’s Best Photographer on the Wires

4 minute read

Of the millions of pictures moving through the news services, or “the wires,” in 2012, an astonishing number have already proven unforgettable. Distinctive images of daily life in Pakistan from Muhammad Muheisen, an Islamabad-based chief photographer for the Associated Press; unexpected visual stories from Jerusalem-based AP staffer Oded Balilty; uniformly strong work from Reuters’ peripatetic Goran Tomasevic (who in the past 12 months shot in Congo, Afghanistan, Syria, Kenya, Somalia and Egypt); Spanish-born Manu Brabo’s searing photos from Syria — over and over again, the wires provided signature photos from unyielding conflicts, rebellions and upheavals the world over.

But even in this celebrated company, the work of Agence-France Presse photographer Marco Longari stood markedly apart. The Italian-born Longari’s pictures from across the Middle East in 2012, from Egypt and the West Bank to Gaza and Syria, were at-once unflinching and authoritative. The unspeakable anguish in the face of a Palestinian mother holding her lifeless daughter, killed in an Israeli air strike; the passion evinced by thousands of Egyptian Christians praying for their ancient homeland; a Syrian man engaged in the most quotidian of tasks — carrying groceries — and yet hunched against a sniper’s bullet that might, at any second, take his life; the deceptively idyllic scene of a boy tending to his horse in Gaza City: in quiet moments and in terrifying, violent environments, Longari made picture after picture this year that mattered.

The Jerusalem-based chief photographer for AFP in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Longari is a graduate of the Istituto Superiore di Fotografia in Rome. In the late 1990s he covered the unrest in Kosovo before moving to Africa, where he served in Nairobi, coordinating the agency’s East African coverage. He chronicled the seemingly endless crisis in Darfur and shot the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. But it was in the Middle East in 2012 that his work transitioned from powerful to indispensable. There is, simply, no way to envision the upheaval across the region in the past year without his work. It is that central to how the world sees (and will remember) this deeply unsettling year.

The 47-year-old Longari recently told TIME that, from his perspective behind the camera, 2012 was “another year of revolutions, protests, violent acts and sheer madness. [It seems] like humanity has lost its bearings, yet again.”

He spent most of his time in Cairo, arriving early in the year, on the first anniversary of the start of the 2011 revolution. There, he was greeted by street violence and chaos.

“It was a sad scene,” he told TIME. “All the energy and the expectations of the young people with whom I shared long days and nights in Tahrir Square the year before, all was being hijacked and taken away, lost in political games. It has been difficult to find images that made sense … that were not simple repetitions of what was done a year before.”

The Egyptian presidential election in May was again, he says, a time of some optimism, with Egyptians voting in large numbers — some of them for the first time in their lives — in a country finally, tentatively experiencing what a real multiparty election can be.

“The shift in the visual landscape,” he notes, “was important, a chance to tell a positive story, whatever the outcome. Fire is still burning under the ashes,” he adds. “People on the streets are still ready and willing to settle scores.”

The West Bank and Gaza, meanwhile, is a story Longari been covering for almost six years. “Crossing the border” into that part of the world, he says, “is shifting into another gear — a different tension, but still a real tension. It’s a landscape I’ve looked at for quite a long time now. I have tools to understand it.”

Incredibly, from a year of countless telling moments, Longari recalls a specific, revelatory instance of professional camaraderie in Gaza that stays with him.

“I was waiting for casualties to arrive at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City after an air raid,” he told TIME. “Phone lines with Jerusalem [where his wife and two children live] went dead. It took me some time to compose myself and get back to the routine of doing what I do. But in the faces of the colleagues around me, I recognized what my face must look like every time a bomb or a rocket falls near their families. Photography is compassion — and that scene in Gaza was the most humbling lesson in compassion I’ve experienced in my career.”

TIME’s previous wire photographers of the year:

2010: Pete Muller of the Associated Press
2009: Mauricio Lima of the SAO Agence-France Press

Feb. 6, 2012. Egyptian demonstrators gather next to a concrete barricade during confrontations outside Cairo's security headquarters. Clashes continued in the wake of deadly football violence in Port Said amid calls by activists for civil disobedience.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Feb. 6, 2012. An Egyptian demonstrator uses goggles and a mask to shield himself from tear gas fired by riot police during confrontations outside Cairo's security headquarters. Clashes continued in the wake of deadly football violence in Port Said amid calls by activists for civil disobedience.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Feb. 22, 2012. A supporter of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak waits for news from Mubarak's trial outside the court.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
March 12, 2012. Palestinian male relatives grieve over the body of Nayef Qarmut, a teenager killed on his way to school in an Israeli military drone strike, as he is prepared for burial at the morgue in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
May 20, 2012. A supporter of Mohamed Morsi stands in a tree during the Muslim Brotherhood's last campaign rally for the presidential election in Cairo.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
May 28, 2012. An Egyptian farmer works in a field in the fertile Delta region of Menufiya, in the city of Banha, Egypt. Support for ex-prime minister and presidential candidate Ahmad Shafiq is strong in the region, where former presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak were born.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Sept. 14, 2012. A Syrian man carrying grocery bags tries to dodge sniper fire as he runs through an alley near a checkpoint manned by the Free Syria Army in Aleppo, Syria.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Sept. 16, 2012. Free Syria Army fighters man a position in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Sept. 16, 2012. Free Syria Army fighters are reflected in a mirror they use to see a Syrian Army post only 50 meters away as they man a position in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Sept. 17, 2012. Syrian teacher Abu al-Fattah gestures while delivering a lesson at an improvised school in the town of Azaz, Syria, on the border with Turkey.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Sept. 18, 2012. Syrian rebels help a wounded comrade who survived a Syrian army strike outside a hospital in Aleppo, Syria.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Sept. 18, 2012. A Syrian man carries his wounded daughter outside a hospital in Aleppo, Syria.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Nov. 11, 2012. Gaza City as seen from al-Shejaya neighborhood, where four Gazans were killed by Israeli fire the day before.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Nov. 16, 2012. The mother of a 10-month-old Palestinian girl killed the day before in an Israeli air strike is comforted by her husband and relatives as she mourns before her daughter's funeral in Gaza City.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Nov. 19, 2012. A Palestinian woman is helped by a paramedic out of her building, which was damaged during an Israeli air raid on a nearby sporting centre in Gaza City.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Nov. 19, 2012. A Palestinian boy tends to his horse at the central market in Gaza City.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Nov. 20, 2012. The body of Tasneem al-Nahal, 13, lies in the morgue of the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City after she was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Shati refugee camp two days previous.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Nov. 20, 2012. The body of an alleged collaborator lies in between fridges inside hospital morgue in Gaza City. Gunmen executed six suspected collaborators and pinned notices to their bodies saying they had been killed by Hamas's armed wing, witnesses told AFP.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Nov. 22, 2012. A Palestinian woman in the al-Atatra area of the northern Gaza Strip grieves in front of the greenhouse where her husband, a farmer, was killed hours before a ceasefire took hold. The ceasefire follows a week of cross-border violence between Israel and Palestine that killed at least 160 people.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Dec. 8, 2012. A Palestinian Hamas policeman takes pictures with his phone from the rooftop of a building overlooking a rally in Gaza City. More than 100,000 Palestinians gathered for the rally, which marked the 25th anniversary of Hamas.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Dec. 11, 2012. Egyptian soldiers form a line in front as protestors against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stand atop barricades erected by the army to protect the Presidential Palace in Cairo. Demonstrators gathered for rival rallies over a deeply disputed constitutional referendum proposed by President Morsi.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
Dec. 13, 2012. Thousands of Egyptian Copts attend Mass in the Cave Cathedral of St. Sama'ans in Cairo, where they prayed for Egypt ahead of the disputed referendum on the new draft of the Constitution.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images
May 20, 2012. A stray dog wanders in an alley of the "City of the Dead" in Cairo.Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

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