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Democratic Republic of Congo

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Like many photojournalists, I’ve been shooting with my iPhone for a while. Using a mobile phone allows me to be somewhat invisible as a professional photographer; people see me as just another person in the crowd. Invisibility is particularly useful in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a potpourri of armed groups and governments have used conflict minerals as the latest way to help fund the warfare, atrocities and repression that have afflicted the area for more than a century.

The electronics industry is one of the main destinations for these minerals, which include tourmaline, cassiterite and coltan. They are used to make critical components of mobile phones, laptops and other gadgets. So it is fitting—if ironic—that I shot this entire essay with my iPhone. I arrived in Congo in early August to document some of the mines in an attempt to highlight how the minerals travel out of the country—and the trade’s effect on the lives of the workers who handle them along the way. At a camp for internally displaced people in Kibati, the phone helped me shoot scenes unobtrusively. Taking photographs with a phone also raises my awareness as a photographer. Instead of concentrating on camera settings and a large piece of equipment, I am better able to focus on the situation before me. It becomes more about how I feel and what I see.

In Congo, the effects of the mineral trade on every person’s life—even the lives of people who aren’t working at the mines—are palpable. At a Heal Africa clinic in Goma, I met an emaciated teenage girl who had been gang-raped by three Hutu militiamen allegedly funded by profits from the mines. I’m not advocating giving up our gadgets. The causes of problems in Congo are far more complex. There are industry sponsored programs like Solutions for Hope, which tries to monitor coltan. But auditing the origins of these minerals is complicated by inaccessibility and danger. I’d like people to pause when they look at these photographs, taking time to think about where the material for modern technology comes from—and what lives are affected before they get into the phones in our hands.

Michael Christopher Brown is a photographer based in New York City. His photographs appear in this week’s issue of TIME. See more of his work here.

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Photographs of elephants deep in the Ugandan jungle, leopards in the Ecuadorian rain forests or jacquacus in a national park in Peru have never been seen like this before. Caught without the presence of a human photographer, animals were captured alone in their homes as part of an initiative by TEAM, the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network. Since 2007, TEAM has installed cameras in the middle of remote areas all over the world to collect data on local animals and climate with hopes of monitoring local trends in tropical biodiversity to provide early warnings about climate change.

The result is a series of candid black-and-white images that give a truly up-close look at animals in their natural habitats. The process begins with camera installation, itself a laborious task: fieldworkers go into the jungle or forest without trails, often walking for days to get to the desired location. After installing the camera in a predetermined location, the workers test its functionality and return 30 days later to retrieve the technology. Cameras take between 3,000 and 20,000 images at each installation site and record the time, date and moon phase, as well as the f-stop and exposure of the film, while workers later identify the species and group series.

TEAM hasn’t discovered any new species to date, but they have found animals previously unknown to a particular area. For example, in Costa Rica, the Central American Tapir was thought to be locally extinct from that site, but TEAM captured photos of the tapir with babies. Likewise, TEAM was able to confirm the presence of elephants in areas of Uganda thought to be without the mammal for years.

In the future, TEAM hopes to expand the number of sites from 17 to 40 locations. At a macro level, the organization disseminates information to global leaders and plays an active role in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. On a local level, TEAM works with partners to develop products that help them manage their forests and parks, including changes in the abundance of species and overall animal communities. And only five years into the project, there’s no telling what information—and images—are yet to be discovered.

The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network is a partnership between Conservation International, The Missouri Botanical Garden, The Smithsonian Institution and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and partially funded by these institutions and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. More information about TEAM can be found here.

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Of the millions of photographs moving through the news services—known as “the wires”—this year, the work of Associated Press freelancer Pete Muller, 29, stood out. His exceptional photographs—focused on Africa and particularly Sudan—take an individual approach to storytelling, one that combines a distinctive aesthetic with journalistic integrity.

The U.S.-born photographer moved to Sudan in 2009 knowing that the country was at a critical point in its history. Sudan had been devastated by decades of brutal civil war between the Arab-Islamic north and largely Christian south and was on the cusp of formal division. This July, southern Sudan became the world’s 193rd country, and Muller knew that very few journalists were in the region covering the story. “I thought that spending a few years documenting southern Sudan’s transition to independence would be of value to the historical record and might shed light on an underreported but geopolitically significant story,” he says.

Santiago Lyon, AP’s director of photography says Muller’s work showcases “a distinctiveness of voice combined with a fairly unique access.” Muller has found subject matter that balances the AP’s desire for news with a personal passion for more in-depth story telling. “I hope that, when appropriately paired with words, it contributes to the record of South Sudan at its long-awaited birth,” the photographer says of his work. “In an intellectual sense, I hope that it underscores the challenges of national identity and nation-states that exists in countless countries across the world and has, for centuries, been the source of immense bloodshed.” Internationally, where the majority of AP’s photo content is staff-produced, Muller is a rarity. He has been working for the AP since April 2010 and is one of a handful of freelancers the wire service works with, in part because of his location in Africa. In addition to his long-term work in Sudan, Muller has shot several stand-alone portrait stories, including one about rape victims in the Congo, in the last year.

Along with the work of a select group of established staff photographers—sprinkled across the bigger news agencies—Muller’s work diversifies the output from the wires to include work that differentiates itself from the standard news assignment fare. Other wire photographers who’ve also succeeded in adding their personal touch to their reportage work this year include Reuters photographer Finbarr O’Reilly, who produced a topographic series from Afghanistan and Libya, the AP’s Kevin Frayer, who shot an essay offering a different perspective on Afghanistan, the AP’s David Guttenfelder’s, notable for his series in North Korea and Japan, and the AP’s Rodrigo Abd, who used a box camera that developed the film inside the camera to make portraits of indigenous Guatemalan women. Getty’s John Moore deserves special mention for his work in Somalia, which was sandwiched among his coverage of some of theyear’s biggest news stories, including the revolution in Libya and the Occupy protests.

In an era of image saturation where it is more difficult than ever to differentiate one set of images from another, this more personal approach is finding support from the within the agencies. “We want photographers to have a voice and as long as that voice is journalistically sound and is as objective or impartial as it needs to be meet AP standards for fairness and accuracy,” Lyon says. “It is Important to have diverse group of photographers and it is important to let them express themselves—to let them to do something that, once upon a time, was not common and add even unheard of in the wire services.”

Although the lion’s share Muller’s work this past year went out through AP, he also worked directly for the New York Times, the Times of London, Foreign Policy and others publications. Muller has what Lyon describes as a triple threat: an accomplished lensman and writer who applies his skills within the rigors or art as well as journalism. “We’re not just about pretty pictures,“ Lyon says. “We want our pictures to say something, there’s a story there.” Muller’s work bares creative testament to this ethic. His photographs bring his stories more attention through his creative process, which balance a unique vision and aesthetic with journalistic integrity. And in this last year, Muller has been peerless in raising the bar for photography on the wires.

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Colin Delfosse was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) documenting conditions in copper mines when, returning to Kinshasa one evening, he saw a masked man perched atop a car, leading a procession of drummers and several dozen men and children.

Intrigued, the Belgian photographer began asking around and learned that what he had witnessed was the afternoon build-up to one of the city’s most popular sports: wrestling. In a country that, from 1998 to 2003, was the center of one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II—8.4 million people killed from eight countries—one wouldn’t expect to find crowds clamoring to watch men pretend to beat each other up, Hulk Hogan-style. But influenced by broadcasts of American wrestling in the 1970s, the Congolese adapted the sport, bringing their own spin—parades, voo-doo and body paint. The sport is so firmly entrenched that even the president’s body guard is a popular wrestler, known as “Etats-Unis,” and one of Kinshasa’s district mayors even sponsored a match to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from Belgium.

In the DRC, there are two branches of the sport. The first is the more recognizable WWE SmackDown-brand, villain vs. villain match, where wrestlers craft costumes out of spandex, wear masks and choreograph a physical tussle. The second, called fetish wrestling, involves opponents, wearing antelope horns or fake machetes through their skull, dancing, casting spells and using witchcraft to combat each other.

“The classic wrestlers consider themselves more important,” says Delfosse, of the group who have day jobs as taxi drivers or bouncers. “They train hard, lifting weights every day. The fetish wrestlers have more of a rock’n’ roll lifestyle—they sit around, drinking beer and smoking weed.”

Gaining his subjects’ cooperation took a while; it was months before Delfosse was able to ride with wrestlers to and from the matches (protection he was relieved to get, as in the early days he was roughed up coming home from a match in a dangerous neighborhood and his cameras smashed). But even with that access, photography is viewed with suspicion, and getting portraits of the wrestlers often took a few hours of negotiation. “They always think you’re going to earn millions from the photo. They’re reluctant and they want to be paid. So you drink a beer with them, and tell them no, you’re not going to get rich,” said Delfosse. “Sometimes four hours later, I can take their picture. You have to be patient.”

Working inside the wrestling scene changed Delfosse’s feelings about Kinshasa. He admitted he hated the noisy, chaotic capital—considered one of the most dangerous in Africa, with a homicide rate almost six times greater than the continent as a whole—when he arrived. While the violence that still pervades the society is just below the surface of the matches—Human Rights Watch documented a mass rape, abduction and torture in a couple of eastern villages just last year—the sport showed Delfosse a different side of the Congolese. “They’re surviving day-to-day. There are no jobs, no infrastructure. When they wake up they don’t know what they’re going to eat for dinner that night,” he said. “It’s hard and tough, but this is a way to show they kept their sense of humor.”

Colin Delfosse is a documentary photographer and a founding member of Out of Focus photography collective. See more of his work here

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