In this series, we ask photographers to look back over their careers and choose a picture that means the most to them.
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.”
About Tom Stoddart
Tom Stoddart began his photographic career with a provincial newspaper in his native North East of England. In 1978 he moved to London and, working freelance, started to regularly supply national newspapers and magazines. He has been based there to this day.
During the 1980’s Stoddart worked extensively for the Sunday Times newspaper. In 1982, he was in Beirut when Israeli forces bombed Yasser Arafat’s besieged PLO base. Later, he was aboard the Greenpeace boat ‘Rainbow Warrior’ where he shot a widely published story about the environmentalists’ efforts to stop the Canadian cull of baby Seals in the Gulf of St Lawrence. In 1987, he was back in Beirut shooting a world exclusive on the horrific conditions inside the Palestinian camp of Borj el Barajneh, where Dr. Pauline Cutting was trapped.
Additionally, he has witnessed international events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Romanian Revolution and the massing of alliance troops in the Middle East for the Desert Storm conflict with Iraq.
In July 1991, Tom travelled to Sarajevo to document the civil war that was engulfing Yugoslavia. The work from 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. After a year of recovery, Tom threw himself back into photojournalism, producing a powerful feature on the aftermath of the Mississippi floods and, later that year, an award-wining photo-essay on the harsh regime for the training of Chinese Olympic Child Gymnasts.
In 2012 his ‘Perspectives’ retrospective outdoor exhibition was displayed at London’s South Bank during the Olympic Games and attracted 225,000 visitors.
Now established as one of the world’s most respected photojournalists, Stoddart is represented by, and works closely with Getty Images to produce campaigning photographic projects on the world’s most serious issues.See more of Tom Stoddart’s imagery