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Portraits of heroes: AP documents courageous health professionals in Italy

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Rome-based photo editor Alberto Pellaschiar proposed the idea: a gallery of portraits of health care workers in the country then at the epicenter of the fight. It wasn’t going to be easy. Besides questions of access and safety, was it justifiable to take doctors and nurses away from their patients? The team in Italy worked with medical centers in Bergamo, Brescia and Rome to come up with a solution that would not causes disruption. And the hospitals agreed that portraying the people in the frontline struggle could help persuade people around the world to take the crisis seriously.

Reassured by AP’s reputation for professionalism, the hospitals permitted Milan photographers Antonio Calanni and Luca Bruno and Rome-based chief photo editor Domenico Stinellis to take a moment to photograph the doctors and nurses during their breaks or as they finished their shifts at the different facilities.

The intimate portraits conveyed both the fatigue and determination of the men and women working round-the-clock to save lives. Chief Rome correspondent Nicole Winfield studied the portraits and interviewed some of the subjects to put their struggle into words.

Stinellis said one major challenge was to synchronize the shootings on the same day.

The photos were taken with similar composition and backdrops, but each has its own unique character.

The photographers opted to use surgical green drapes to create a standard background that would be available at all locations and that would symbolize the shared endeavor of the health care workers. They also wanted to employ similar lighting for a consistent package despite the different locations. “We decided a common focal length, aperture, light position and contrast, orientation and all the rest of the details including the preferred position of the mask depending on the type and color,” he said.

As a result, all 16 portraits were taken with similar composition and backdrops, but strikingly, each with its own unique character.

Winfield was sent the portraits as they were taken and immediately translated them into a tribute to the heroism. The images were edited and captioned that same day and published early the next morning.

The impact was tremendous. From Le Monde in France and Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter to CNN in Spanish, AP customers worldwide showcased the gallery. The photos impressed even within Italy. Corriere della Sera ran the 16 photos under the headline “on the front line” and national broadcaster RAI interviewed Bruno about AP’s gallery.

How did the health care workers respond? “It was moving to receive their thank-you emails when they saw the reach these portraits have had,” Stinellis said.

For conceiving and executing a brilliant series of photographs that conveyed in human terms the struggle against the disease,breaking through amid all the coronavirus coverage,Pellaschiar,Stinellis,Calanni, Bruno and Winfield win AP’s Best of the Week.

For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus:

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.

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