Artful Blogger

THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: Life unintentionally imitates Michelangelo’s famous sculpture at the World Press Photo exhibit

By Paul Gessell

World Press Photo of the Year 2011 by Samuel Aranda, Spain, for The New York Times. Fatima al-Qaws cradles her son Zayed (18), who is suffering from the effects of tear gas after participating in a street demonstration, in Sanaa, Yemen.

Sometimes life imitates art. Such is the case with one of the prize-winners in the annual World Press Photo competition on view at the Canadian War Museum.

The dramatic photo shows a mother cradling her injured son. Instantly, you know you have seen this image before, although perhaps not with the conservatively dressed Muslim mother wearing white gloves and swathed head to toe in a black niqab. And despite being unable to see the mother’s face hidden by the niqab, you are very aware of the pain she feels because of her son’s pain.

The image, of course, resembles Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, Pieta, in which the Virgin Mary holds the dead body of Christ. Or maybe the image makes you think of other scenes, all involving a mother and son. That is why Michelangelo’s Pieta strikes a chord with so many people: The scene is universal, depicting the mother-son relationship in any culture.

This very contemporary Muslim scene was shot by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda for The New York Times. The image has been named the World Press Photo of the Year for 2011. Pictured are Famima al-Qaws and her 18-year-old son Zayed. The son had just been tear-gassed and injured in a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, last Oct. 15.

The Aranda photo is one of 160 prize-winners from the annual contest of the Netherlands-based World Press Photo Foundation. Professional photographers from around the world are invited to submit entries in the competition. Winners in various categories, such as sports, arts, nature, and portraits are selected by a peer jury and then exhibitions of the photographs are held around the world. The exhibition of the 2011 winners has just opened at the War Museum and will then move to Toronto, Montreal, and Chicoutimi.

There are the usual photos of war, crime, wild animals, and natural disasters. But nothing beats a shot of raw human emotion. Such is the case with four images in the exhibition by Donald Weber, a globe-trotting Canadian photographer affiliated with VII Photo agency.

These four photos won first prize in the “portraits stories” competition. They show four suspects or witnesses being interrogated by police in Ukraine. One man has a gun pointed against his head, presumably by a police officer. The other three individuals cower in fear. You can almost hear, smell, and taste their angst, so powerful are the images.

The photos will remain in the foyer of the Canadian War Museum until Aug. 26.