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Stories of lives lost, told with photos: 2 remarkable projects share Best of the Week

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As the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the world last week, and the confirmed U.S. death toll approached 100,000, AP photographers on two continents found unusual and meaningful ways to bring home the tragedy of lives lost.

They were David Goldman, a global enterprise photographer based in Providence, Rhode Island, who met with the families of COVID-19 victims at a Massachusetts soldiers’ home, literally projecting their images onto the exterior of their homes for a series of arresting, ghostly and emotion-laden scenes, and Rodrigo Abd, global enterprise photographer, Lima, Peru, who spent weeks with Venezuelan migrants collecting bodies in a poor area of Lima to show the abject desperation of that city’s victims. The photographers’ affecting work wins them AP’s Best of the Week. Also honored is Lima reporter Franklin Briceño who accompanied Abd, documenting the funeral home workers on their grueling rounds, writing their story while also collecting interviews on his smartphone for a strong video piece.

Goldman came up with an unconventional storytelling approach, focused on the deadliest outbreak of coronavirus at any nursing facility in the country – more than 70 veterans died from COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts. The victims’ families not only lost their loved ones, but the virus took away their normal grieving process and, in some cases, their chance even to say a last goodbye.

Realizing families were grieving from the confines of their homes and often in solitude, Goldman decided to photograph them in their environment, while showcasing their loved one in a larger-than-life format. The project comprised images of 12 of those veterans in uniform at the time they served,each projected at dusk onto the homes of their families,who are seen in mourning through the windows and doorways. Goldman interviewed each family member and the audio from each session became,in the hands of audio producer Samantha Shotzbarger in Phoenix,emotional audio remembrances,accompanied by written vignettes on each by New York-based enterprise writer Matt Sedensky.

“Beyond conceiving the idea,this kind of photography takes a lot of planning,gentle negotiation with many grieving families,extensive preparation,a dozen nights on the road,and the ability to successfully pivot before the sky goes dark,” said New England photo editor Bill Sikes.

Goldman managed to present a “subtle,evocative” portrait series that captured 12 veterans lost before their time,added Enric Marti,global enterprise photo editor,noting that the project was ready for publication just before Memorial Day. It had massive usage in U.S. newspapers, and some papers wanted to interview Goldman.

A continent away,meanwhile,Abd and Briceño made real the desperation faced by Peru,which has one of the world’s highest incidences of the disease although it has been little noticed by most international media.

After winning the trust of the marginalized Venezuelan migrants who recover the bodies of coronavirus victims in Lima,the pair spent three weeks virtually embedded day and night with the funeral home workers,hiking steep hillsides and squeezing themselves into cramped homes, witnessing scenes of utter devastation.

In one home they came upon the body of Faustino López,who had hanged himself in the living room after testing positive for the disease and being turned away from a government treatment center. López’s wife,already hospitalized with COVID-19, died a week later.

The AP story documenting the body collectors’ work was used by newspapers and websites in the region and around the world and was praised as “stunning” and “amazing” by readers on Twitter.

For intrepid and creative multiformat storytelling emphasized by unforgettable images,Goldman, Abd and Briceño share AP’s Best of the Week honors.


For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus:

AP’s hub for comprehensive all-formats coverage of the virus outbreak.

Understanding the Outbreak: Stories explaining the new coronavirus.

One Good Thing: Daily stories of hope and humanity amid the crisis.

Ground Game: Inside the Outbreak: AP’s podcast series.

Lives Lost: Stories behind the victims of COVID-19.

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