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From the Tokyo Olympics to life in the ever-shifting COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been an eventful year for Globe and Mail photojournalists. Melissa Tait and Fred Lum select their best and describe how they were taken

Melissa Tait, Staff Visual Journalist

Possibly the brightest moment of a strange (but successful) Tokyo Olympics was in August, when the Canadian women’s soccer team won gold over Sweden in penalty kicks. Win or lose, we knew the emotional action would be with the team watching the kicks. It was a thrilling experience to capture that extreme emotion in a single moment. And the blue tongues were a bonus.

In Tokyo, after our 14-day quarantine, Nathan VanderKlippe and I spent time with Kunihiko Katori at his family’s Shinto shrine to sport. Later on, Katori obliged me returning when the light was low to photograph his portrait on the path lit by the lanterns dedicated to Olympic and Paralympic athletes. This quiet shrine, in the middle of such a sprawling city amidst the upheaval of the pandemic, seemed otherworldly. I hoped to capture that feeling, and Katori’s calmness, in this photograph.

Andre De Grasse furthered his superstar status with a bronze and then a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. In his first heat of the men’s 100-metre, he was running in the outside lane, which gave me the opportunity to worry less about the finish or his reaction, and just photograph him in motion. Luckily, he happened to be in the lead when he crossed the Olympic rings.

Tennis player Naomi Osaka, who represents Japan, lit the cauldron to open the Tokyo Olympics at an empty Olympic Stadium on July 23. The empty seats made some of the defining images of a Games held during a worldwide pandemic. About a month before the opening ceremonies, all spectators were banned from the Games because of concerns around COVID-19.

The view of the starting line ahead of the men’s 100-metre in a completely empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium. Here, the clock shows about 6:30 p.m. – a half-hour before the start of the first day of athletic events.

In late May, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced the discovery of 215 remains in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in the B.C. Interior. Here, chalk graffiti is shown written on the bricks on the back wall of the building on June 6. The institution was formerly one of Canada’s largest residential schools.

Also on June 6, Jesse Nowak hugged his daughter Charlee at the growing memorial outside of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc. Charlee’s maternal grandparents were residential-school survivors. Jesse said even though it was difficult to think about, the family needed to visit.

Fred Lum, Staff Photographer

This was the third Afghan refugee arrival I’ve photographed. I’m always on the look out for strong emotional scenes as families are reconnected, or are realizing they’re in a new and safer country. This is my favourite photograph from this particular Toronto Pearson Airport arrival on Oct. 15. After a 24-hour day flying from Islamabad, Pakistan, one-and-a-half-year-old Fatima Amiri was fast asleep on the bags of luggage. It’s as if the restful sleep represented the end of her family’s journey to freedom.

On quiet days with few assignments, I’ll often head out looking for standalone photographs. On this November day, the winds were very gusty, so I headed down to Cherry Beach, a popular spot in Toronto where wind surfers and foilers can often be seen. With feature photos that don’t have an accompanying story, I have more options to find photos that aren’t very literal and can look for something a bit different compositionally. Here, the fact that the foiler was at some distance wasn’t a problem, as they were one small element in the overall composition with the afternoon light and darker clouds.

For an assignment to photograph a portrait of Admiral Art McDonald in September, I had an idea that this would be a good task for my 5x7 large-format field camera. To illustrate the dual realities the Admiral was facing as he took leave from his duties as chief of the defence staff of the Canadian Forces, I photographed him dressed in casual civilian clothes, and also wearing his uniform. To ensure the composition matched as closely as possible, I taped a spot on the floor for him to stand on. I then captured one side of McDonald, before he changed clothes so I could photograph the opposite side.

A fairly common saying in photojournalism is that the closer one is to their subject, the more impactful and stronger the photograph. To capture open-water swimmer Margot Begin in the waters of Lake Ontario at Cherry Beach on this August day, I decided to get in the water with her. For these photographs, I used a Nikon submersible digital camera as I bobbed in the waters of Cherry Beach alongside Ms. Begin. The photos were to accompany a story on how the pandemic was keeping swimming pools closed, and Ms. Begin took to open-water swimming.

Soccer is always a draw in Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood, and never more so than during the 2021 UEFA European Championship. My day on June 15 involved going from bar to bar trying to find crowds that were okay with being photographed, and hoping that they would be enthusiastic while watching the game. Patrons at two bars declined to be photographed, but the third one was the charm. All I had to do was wait and watch and hope that something would happen. Fortunately for me, this group was more than emphatic in their reactions to game action and it was all I could do to keep up with them. Here we see Karen Pires, her daughter Rachel Pires, Jennifer Defraga, and her mom Marilia Defraga reacting to a goal by Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo on a penalty kick during a Euro Cup 2021 match against Hungary.

On April 10, Vicky Bernard – the manager of the mental-health program at the Timmins and District Hospital – posed with a framed photograph of her late son Joey, taken at a concert in Toronto in 2017. The 25-year-old died from an overdose in June, 2020.

When I have a day with few assignments, I’ll often spend the time digging up standalone photographs, which usually have strong graphic elements in the composition and framing. Housing continues to be a serious issue in Toronto, and condominiums are being built at a fast pace all over the city. On Jan. 19, I captured these workers on a lift, reflected in the glass windows they’re installing for the Sugar Wharf Condominium project.

For a story on essential workers and high COVID-19 rates in the L6P postal code area of Brampton, Ont., one aspect I had to illustrate was how many relied on public transit to get to work. Here, on May 11, workers had just gotten off the bus and were headed for their jobs at Brampton’s Amazon fulfillment centre. Many essential workers live in the L6P area – many in multigeneration households – who have been unable to work from home.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

For a story written by health writer Kelly Grant, we had access to the COVID-19 unit at Brampton Civic Hospital on May 25 to report on the results of proning patients to help with their ventilation. On the left, staff members attend to an ICU patient after they were turned from a prone position onto the supine position. On the right is the equipment needed to take care of and monitor the patient. What has been difficult to convey during the pandemic (because access to hospitals has been difficult to get) is the extraordinary effort health care professionals have performed to keep patients alive.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Arriving early for a portrait assignment at a pop-up vaccination clinic in Scarborough, Ont., on April 22, I noticed the long line of people waiting to get in. With COVID-19 vaccinations available, but in short supply and high demand, upward of a thousand or more people lined the sidewalk hoping to get into clinic outside the Warden Woods Community Centre. Scenes such as this illustrate the inequitable roll out of the vaccines, as some don’t have access to reliable internet, or can’t afford to take time off work. The clinic only had 500 doses on hand so some people had to be turned away.

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