Sunday, 25 November 2012


Samuel Aranda, Spain, for The New York Times.
The glimpse of the woman's face which breaks through  the solid black plane of her drapery and the gloved hand tenderly holding her son's arm makes a striking picture. But it's not a pose adopted by models - it took place in real time. The date is 15 October 2011. The place is specific too - a Yemeni woman, Fatima al-Qaws, is cradling her son Zayed in Sanaa, Yemen.  It's the winning photograph  chosen from over 100,000 images aubmitted from 124 countries  to the 2011 World Press annual competition in press photography, currently on show at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank..

 Zayed was suffering from the effects of tear gas after being fired at as he approached a government checkpoint during protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Zayed remained in a coma for two days after the incident. The image was taken at a mosque that was being used as a temporary field hospital where Ms Qaws found her son among the wounded.

 Anyone familiar with European art might see the composition as an echo of  Michaelangelo's Pieta. Another mother, Mary, is grieving over her beloved son, Jesus, an event which took place 2,000 years ago. It was translated into one of the world's greatest sculptures 500 years ago. It's a grief which does not change from generation to generation and is probably being experienced in various parts of the world even as you read this.

Samuel Aranga's photograph is on display at the Royal Festival Hall amid a dazzling and powerful exhibition of  169 images from across the world, including award-winning images from each of the other nine contest categories.  There is a warning that some of the work is very disturbing.

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