Powerful historical perspective of black and white images

SARAJEVO, 1993
SARAJEVO, 1993
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as a picture editor for Yorkshire Post Newspapers, I know only too well the difficulty of spotting a great image in an ocean of multi-media, high-definition colour images.

Sometimes the very nature of a simple black and white photograph gets noticed. When the actual content of the image itself is also simple and powerful, the effect is stunning.

The Perspectives exhibition, now open at White Cloth Gallery in Leeds is not an exhibition to be taken lightly, these photographs are important. Take your time. Stand and stare.

Look closely, really closely into the eyes of the people in the midst of violence, trauma and disaster, they look back at you, their stories laid bare.

Absorb the pictures and you will find that one or two will stay with you, slip into your sub-conscious – and are likely to remain there for a long time after you have left the gallery.

For me I will always wonder about the well dressed lady looking for all the world as if she is shopping.

Pictured against a sand- bagged wall with a soldier in the foreground, she maybe shopping but she is also challenging the snipers in Sarajevo.

Her expression displays pride and defiance in the midst of a not-too-distant war. Who is she? Did she survive?

The pictures represent a small part of the work of photo-journalist Tom Stoddart, who for over forty years has been a witness to history. Through his powerful reporting, from the bloody days of the Siege of Sarajevo, the dramatic events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall and the election of South Africa’s first black president, he shares an unblinking, unsettling, disturbing powerful vision of events.

In Perspectives he not only shows the darkness but also captures the undimmed light of the human spirit.

Amongst many diverse and complex assignments he revealed to the world the extent of the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, which won the POY World Understanding Award in 2003,

In the same year his pictures of Royal Marines in Iraq was awarded the Larry Burrows Award for Exceptional War Photography.

In 2004 his book iWitness was acclaimed as the best photography book published in the USA.

Earthquakes, environmental protests, floods, the regime of the Chinese Olympic Child Gymnasts and the intimate diary of Tony Blair’s 1997 election triumph have all been carefully observed.

Born in Morpeth, Tom began his journalistic photographic career in the North East before moving to London as freelance.

Working for The Sunday Times, he was in Beirut as the Israeli’s bombed Arafat’s PLO base, he reported from the Rainbow Warrior as Greenpeace tried to stop the Canadian seal cull.

His work, documenting the siege in Sarajevo was published across the world. Returning a year later for The Sunday Times Magazine, Tom was seriously injured in heavy fighting around the Bosnian Parliament buildings.

This is a must-see exhibition, the images Tom Stoddart produces are as memorable and multi-layered as the subjects themselves and stand as a powerful body of evidence for both the humanity and inhumanity found in extreme situations.

Perspectives at the White Cloth Gallery, to November 19, White Cloth Gallery 24-26 Aire Street Leeds.