Tom Stoddart’s Most Meaningful Photo
For 25 years, the international photojournalism festival Visa Pour L’Image has been bringing together people who care deeply about the craft and its responsibility to give voice to the vulnerable and help the world see itself.
It’s a responsibility not taken lightly.
In honor of this, our Reportage by Getty Images photojournalists took some time to talk about which of their images has had the most significant impact on them over their long and storied careers. This is the first installment of the series.
Tom Stoddart: Woman of Sarajevo, 1993
It was 1993 and the Siege of Sarajevo was at its bloodiest.
I was working on a photo-essay documenting the lives of women in that war torn city. Each day the women braved the shelling and snipers who took aim as they queued for water or bread at distribution points. In the suburb of Dobrinja the streets were especially dangerous and people didn’t venture out unnecessarily. There was sniping and I was sheltering by sand bags when suddenly a woman appeared in the deserted street. Her head was held high and she was wearing lipstick, heels and a colourful dress. I shot three or four frames on a Leica as she moved past me, then she was gone.
When my story landed on the picture desk at LIFE Magazine they asked me to go back to Sarajevo to try to find the woman and interview her. Days later Meliha Vareshanovic told me, “My message to the watching gunmen who surround my city is simple, you will never defeat us!”
Two decades after I photographed her, I returned to Sarajevo to meet Meliha again. She was 57 and still strikingly beautiful and full of life. We chatted about the image and the fact that actress Angelina Jolie loved the picture and had it framed on her studio wall when she was editing her film In the Land of Blood and Honey.
Meliha told me the picture I took was during very painful time for her, taken just a couple of months after her mother died.
“I didn’t want to show that pain in my face,” she said. “My mother had a heart attack – she was not wounded, not killed, but what happened to her was because of the war, because there was no medicine, no drugs and no food. I am speechless that Angelina Jolie felt so inspired by my picture – so pleased and surprised. Angelina is one of the most beautiful women in the world and when I hear this I feel breathless.”
See a related feature about the women of Sarajevo on the Reportage Web site.
Tom Stoddart began his career as a freelance photographer in 1978 and later worked extensively for the Sunday Times. Read more about him here.