After returning to Europe on a sailing trip, Greta Thunberg welcomed press crowds and young climate activists who dragged her everywhere. She rested for a day, then returned to the sea to be photographed for the cover of the Time Person of the Year.
The image was taken by Evgenia Arbugaeva, who grew up in the Russian Arctic, and takes photos of distant, calm and unlikely beauty. “When TIME asked me to photograph Greta, I wondered how to make a portrait that combines gentleness and courage at the same time. How to capture the intense and focused look in and out, which seems characteristic of Greta,” he says. “It was not an easy task.”
Arbugaeva wanted a photograph that captured the spirit of the young activist. He began by creating a humor board with references from Botticelli, Monet, Norse mythology, tarot cards, and romantic period art.
He arrived in Portugal while Thunberg was still at sea and began exploring Greater Lisbon to find a place. “One day, I saw a quiet winter beach with almost no one but fishermen,” says Arbugaeva. “I had to consider privacy because the crowd surrounds Greta wherever I go.” I thought it was perfect. ”
The photoshoot would enter the heart of the TIME report. Before leaving Hampton, Virginia, three weeks earlier, Thunberg was interviewed by national correspondent Charlotte Alter and climate correspondent Justin Worland aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde. In Lisbon, the teenager met Suyin Haynes, a London-based correspondent, who spent five days with Thunberg in April, at home, at school, and on a 1,200-mile train journey, for a previously published profile. As part of May 27, TIME. 2019, number “Leaders of the next generation.”
Thunberg arrived at the beach in a rented Tesla to take her to the shoot. The sun was setting. “When she stood up to take a picture, the golden pink sky created a beautiful light, the tide rose, and the waves surrounded her,” Evgenia recalls. “Greta was tall and robust without moving, only a few strands of her hair floated in a gentle breeze. She looked directly at the ocean she had just crossed. At that moment, it seemed that all the elements and forces of nature were lining up to create magic. , the most precious gift for a photographer. ”
It could have been the last moment of peace that the activist would have had during the trip. The next day, she boarded a night train to Madrid, accompanied by Arbugaeva, Haynes, and the horde of media that would follow her at every step in the Spanish capital, where tens of thousands of people protested. Outside the United Nations climate conference.
“Since then, crowds of journalists and security agents are constantly close to Greta,” says Arbugaeva, a graduate of the New York International Photography Center in 2009. “It was the first time I saw something like that. That, a real crazy hysteria of people trying to reach him … But Greta seemed to handle himself very well. I could see that he is on a mission. ”