Climate Change Activist Greta Thunberg Named TIME Magazine's Person of the Year, Photographer Explains Shoot Process

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has become the youngest person ever to receive TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year title at just 16 years old. Here’s the story behind shooting the cover, told from the photographer who took it.

Evgenia Arbugaeva is the Russian photographer who took the image. She recalled the experience:

When TIME asked me to photograph Greta, I was thinking how can I make a portrait that combines gentleness and at the same time, courage. How do I capture the intense, focused gaze inwards as well as outwards, which I feel is characteristic of Greta? It was not an easy task.

As with the creative process for many shoots, she began with a moodboard, which she says includes images from Botticelli, Monet, Norse mythology, tarot cards, and Romantic period art. She landed on shooting at a rocky beach in Lisbon, Portugal on December 4 after several days scouting a location.

She continued:

As she stood for a photograph, the sky colored golden pink, creating beautiful light, ocean tide was rising, and waves were raging around her. Greta stood tall and strong without moving, just a few strands of her hair fluttering in a gentle breeze. She looked straight ahead into the ocean she just crossed. At this moment, it felt as if all nature elements and forces aligned to create the magic — the most treasured gift for a photographer.

TIME Editor-in-Chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal said Thunberg’s selection was down to her actions for climate change being a “galvanizing force.” He elaborated:

Thunberg has become the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet and the avatar of a broader generational shift in our culture that is playing out everywhere from the campuses of Hong Kong to the halls of Congress in Washington. For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year.

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42 Comments

Tim Ericsson's picture

Oh boy. Get ready for posts on:
1) People complaining that FStoppers is too political, and how they are “def gonna leave the site” now.
2) People bringing up Trump, and conversations going off the rails into conspiracy theories
3) Zero discussion on the process of taking this photograph

Keith Mullin's picture

Only took until the first comment on the 3rd post...

David Pavlich's picture

I have to give the photographer credit for not using the worn out background of steam pouring out of a nuke plant cooling tower or a refinery with a flare in process.

Stuart Carver's picture

She has that ‘staring into the distance philosophically’ look down to a tee, literally every single shot I’ve ever seen.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Sadly, that’s because she has Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes social interaction a very difficult puzzle for her. Her inability to regulate her emotions is also part of it. She has had a history of irrational fears and nightmares throughout her childhood, with this being the latest and, for her parents, the most profitable one. I think this is a child who is being cravenly used.

Stuart Carver's picture

Oh yes, she is absolutely being used to fuel someone else’s agenda, welcome to 2019 the year the internet started to fail miserably.

Deleted Account's picture

It is not unusual for people with Asperger's to have very high IQ. But sure, she's clearly an idiot puppet who is incapable of comprehension.

Deleted Account's picture

I would not classify a fear that the polar ice caps will completely melt, that weather patterns will change in such a way that fresh water becomes unattainable for hundreds of millions of people, that sea levels will rise and flood coastlines around the world that are home to additional hundreds of millions, as irrational. The irrational bit is not being afraid of these unfolding possibilities. I don’t know if her activism will be successful, but the only craven aspect of it all is people claiming her fears are irrational or unjustified.

Dana Goldstein's picture

You don’t catch my point. It’s not that those things are or are not happening, it is the difficulty with which someone with Aspergers approaches those things and how personally and deeply they take them upon themselves. No child should be put in her position, regardless of issue. A child who ISNT on the spectrum cannot handle that amount of attention and focus on them, much less a child with a lifetime of difficulties with relational abilities. I’m scorning the people profiting off her, not her.

Deleted Account's picture

Fair enough. This is a big lift for a kid. It's a big lift for anyone. I don't know that her autism makes it more difficult than it would be for another person. In some ways, it gives her the kind of focus and certainty that eludes most people.

As for her being manipulated by people, sure. The topic of climate change - which is really just fairly straightforward energy balance - has become so politicized and high-stakes that everything that touches it gets manipulated. Such has our society become. You seem to take a fairly cynical view that everyone around her is merely manipulating her, and that she is particularly ill-equipped to deal with this manipulation because she is autistic. I am perhaps ignorant of the facts, but I've seen nothing to indicate that this is so. Are her parents profiting off her? Are others? Or are they people with common goals who are allowing a particularly impactful and passionate young woman to reach audiences and galvanize people with an important message?

Yes, fame and the attention they bring are often difficult for people to manage. But there are many, many autistic (and highly talented) people who are famous and who do manage their situation. It just struck me that you felt Greta's autism would make things particularly difficult for her. I've known of too many counterexamples of people who thrived despite mild autism (or maybe because of it) for your views to make sense to me. There are two sides to the autism coin, two ends to the autism spectrum.

Dana Goldstein's picture

A friend of my daughter has Aspergers, same age as Greta. I’ve seen the difficulties up close. This affects interpersonal communication and understanding of social cues, and can include just the kind of drastic emotional shifts that she experiences. Knowing that, as a mother, I would never expose my child to this kind of attention. It would be my job to shield her from it, not make her the face of it. I think in 20 years she will have a lot to say about this time in her life. Aspergers is so complex and fascinating in a way. I read up on it a lot when my daughter and this girl became friends, so that I could help my daughter understand things that she would not know how to interpret on her own.

Mike Yamin's picture

So clearly not a post about photography, but ya know, have fun.

Marc Perino's picture

Well, the photographer explained how she obtained the photograph for the cover. Could it be more detailed? Yes. Was it about photography? Yes.

I think photography is not always about a "pretty picture". It also should have a social or political or emotional impact or an idea that is transported. And it can stir a discussion or be a starting point for change or at least a change of thinking.

What I am wondering about on this site is that the main focus is - no pun intended - often only on the technical side of things. These are easy to explain and relatively easy to digest. And they are mostly not partisan - apart from Nikon vs. Canon vs Sony discussions. But this is harmless banter.

But throughout history photography has helped to explain or illustrate social or political movements. I think of the girl in the Vietnam war that runs away naked on the street from the napalm bombs. Or the father with his child on the bank of the Rio Grande. Or many more.

I know that F-Stoppers is leaning more towards the technical aspects but I have no problem when some articles address political themes. Because in the end in most cases it is not important what camera model was used to take a photo but the subject itself or the circumstances in which it was taken.

David Pavlich's picture

There's a pretty big difference between that horrific image from Vietnam and the shot of Greta. Greta's shot was in a pretty much controlled environment with a singular task to get a shot for Time. The Vietnam shot was photojournalism as it is supposed to be. An amazing shot taken in a quickly changing, chaotic situation.

In terms of impact, the shot of Greta is ho hum when compared to the Vietnam image.

Dennis Johnson's picture

the vietnam/vietcong soldier getting executed is one of the best photojournalist images of the last 50 years.

David Pavlich's picture

That's a time when photojournalism was photojournalism.

Marc Perino's picture

If you like to differentiate between the two kinds of genres - be my guest.

But I personally think that taking a shot of Greta in a controlled environment for the sake of a cover of a magazine is not detrimental to the existence of photojournalism. They rather compliment each other.
She is obviously the face of a global movement. Even if you like it or not or if you believe it or not - I won't go into the conspiracy theories - but at this point of time she gained some relevance in the public eye.

I would even make the argument that a photo that was taken in a controlled environment can have historical significance later on.
There is this shot of John Lennon clinging to Yoko Ono that was taken on purpose by Annie Leibovitz back then. Now it is considered a piece of art and it is a historical document of this point in time.

The same with the last shooting of Marilyn Monroe with Bert Stern. It was an arranged photo session - admittedly lasting 3 days - but nevertheless are his photos even the ones she crossed out and scratched on the contact sheets and dia positives today a historical document and captured a small window in time. These moments would be lost forever without these photographs.

Now you can argue if these kind of photos have the same impact as the girl in Vietnam. Probably not because nowadays there are too many photos floating around in too many mediums that it is hard to break the cacophony of images.

But my point was merely that the subject of photography or the context in which they were produced should have greater value than the technical aspects that surrounded them.

Don't get me wrong I love tech talk. But in all of this the subject that you photograph should have more value than the camera. Otherwise it is only self-referential. And this self-referentialism I always see in those YouTube videos of famous "YouTubers" that create 10 minutes of highly edited and perfectly cut "content" that has no meaning at all. I just watch them and feel I have learned nothing. Other than they can shoot & edit very well. But they don't use it to say something. The content is the content.

Did the article gave enough insight into the creative process? Probably not.
Was it a PR piece? Maybe or maybe certainly.
Was it about photography? Certainly. (Maybe not the video - but it gave some context.)

I - for myself - learned about the russian (!) photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva which I never heard of. I looked at her work and found it very interesting and researched more of her photographic work.

I was bemused about the fact that even in the face of political fights with USA's adversary Russia a magazine had no problem to hire a rather unknown Russian artist for the cover their magazine. I liked that.

David Pavlich's picture

My example is limited to the Greta image compared to the Vietnam image. Greta's image will never have the impact that the Vietnam image has had.

Deleted Account's picture

For me, a hobby shooter... the technical stuff is educational. Otherwise... I make my time on Fstoppers about what's most important to me... connecting, discussing whatever ideas an image conjures.

Any experience is what I make it.

Marc Perino's picture

And it should be that way. Everyone should use the platform to their liking. ;)
I myself find inspiration in articles that not only cover the technical aspects of shooting.

Deleted Account's picture

Well said, Marc. There's a special place in my language filter for article discussions where I'm "told" what I should think. The pissing contest on the Adobe profit margin article was a... walk awwaaayyyy moment. Ha!

Mike Yamin's picture

To the people giving me a thumbs down, here's the article in a nutshell: First the Time video, then the photographer saying, "How can I do this? Then I made a moodboard. Then I found a location and the light and everything else came together." Finally, the Time CEO praising the girl. That's it. It's not a story about photography or the photo.

Marc Perino's picture

You remain free to see it that way. I for myself discovered a photographer which I found very inspiring. Even though it was a PR driven article.

Ken Flanagan's picture

Not exactly a wealth of knowledge as far as the process, but that’s ok.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Click on Petapixel link if you want more technical details and backstage.

Ken Flanagan's picture

Also, it would be nice if there was a decent look of the photo we are talking about. The video didn’t make sense to add in there. And yeah, I read it again, and all she did was describe the photo and that Time called her to do it.

Deleted Account's picture

Thank you for stories like this... about what goes into creating such images. I'd never considered "mood boards." Sounds kind of like a "story board" in movie making.

Too bad one prominent posterior of a (insert favorite word)... chose to deface the image.

Pierre Boudoir's picture

Please.... Photo - nothing special, model zero value. What to write about. Don't waste energy for it.

Dennis Johnson's picture

Fstoppers is getting to political, def gonne leave the site now.
The whole greta thing is a conspiracy against Trump.
Not even going to discuss the process of taking this picture.

Tim Ericsson ;-) grin, really couldn't resist.

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