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Frontline witness

Anna Filipova uses photography to report on climate change. Peter Dench investigates this Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award recipient

The work of photojournalist and researcher, Anna Filipova, explores environmental topics in hard-to-access areas, most notably of the Arctic region. In the winter of 2012, she travelled to North Greenland on a physically and mentally demanding three-week expedition, camping outdoors in extreme conditions and temperatures as low as -46°C to report on global warming. In her series, Geothermal Energy, she focuses on the changing relationship between nature and industry in Iceland. She spent a polar summer documenting the masculine community of coal miners in Svalbard, the northernmost mines on the planet. Her portfolio is the work of a stoic and determined professional who refuses to give in. ‘When I travel, it’s very rare I see a woman. Many times I present a project, the response from the industry is, “this is not a place for women”,’ explains Anna in an interview for Euro News.

The Research Centre, formerly a coal-mining town, is the world’s largest laboratory for modern Arctic research. There are representations from 11 countries. Ny-Ålesund settlement, Svalbard. Photo: Anna Filipova

Anna is the overall winner of the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage award 2019 of £2,000, facilitated by FotoDocument and supported by Nikon. Selected from a 15-strong shortlist, the judges were unanimous in the final decision having deliberated for several hours. Anna’s winning reportage, Research At the End Of The World, focuses on international scientific research on climate change taking place in Ny-Ålesund, the most northerly permanent civilian settlement in the world. Situated on the 79th parallel north, on Svalbard archipelago, the population of Ny-Ålesund is predominantly made up of research scientists, the stations are managed by 11 countries. Anna followed in the snow-tracks of international luminaries, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Ban Ki-moon who, among others, have made the journey to observe first hand the consequences of climate change.

A scientist preparing tools for data gathering for climate research. In the background is Blomstandbreen. Photo: Anna Filipova

Anna’s images are composed as meticulously as a scientist would conduct an experiment. Radars stand regimented, a frontline witness to the sources of human pollution circulating up from Europe and North America. The research settlement is integrated in an expansive white landscape of shifting boundaries, a scientist is dwarfed by mountains as she prepares tools for data gathering, another sits hunched in a hut enveloped by the Arctic night – far removed from the stereotype of the comforts of a metropolitan facility.

Radars, Svalbard. Photo: Anna Filipova

Anna’s compelling and cohesive documentary photo essay has the potential to become an important part of climate change discourse in the media, classroom, at photography festivals and climate summits across the globe. The content is far removed from that of Sally Mann and Darcy Padilla, both intimate photographers of family and humanity that Anna cites as an influence. Anna learnt the basics of analogue photography at university, fascinated with the developing and processing techniques of the darkroom and the aesthetics produced by the Rollei Ortho film unloaded from her Hasselblad.

Scientists heading to the Marine lab to conduct marine systems research, Svalbard. Photo: Anna Filipova

Climate heroine

She has a BA (Hons) from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design and MA Visual Communication from the Royal College of Art. She has graduated to become a LensCulture Exposure Awards 2015 finalist and one of 11 nominated for the Women’s Forum 2018 outstanding Rising Talents. She is a grantee of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and National Geographic. She was selected by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and President of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, as a climate heroine. She has worked for the International New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Reuters News Agency, National Geographic Society and has been published in The Washington Post, The Guardian and The Telegraph. Anna’s work has been displayed at Photo London, Photoville New York, Festival Arles France and the Royal Geographical Society UK. She has done a lot to be proud of.

Senior engineer of the Ny-Ålesund Arctic Research station, working with some of the installed tools for measuring different climate data, Svalbard. Photo: Anna Filipova

For a photographer that feels a sense of responsibility to influence people through photojournalism and inform the world what is happening, Anna is difficult to contact – my efforts proved as effective as wearing flip-flops in a blizzard. I stare into the glacial eyes of her unflinching online profile portrait. Perhaps that’s what it takes to achieve success, to unconditionally become what you report on, be the story – a character actor in the pages of your life. Perhaps Anna Filipova is simply inaccessible.

To read more details about the Marilyn Stafford FotoAward, visit fotodocument.org/fotoaward.


Anna Filipova is a photojournalist and researcher. She has appeared in several esteemed publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian and The Washington Post. To read more about her work, visit anfilip.com.


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