The Shots That Changed The World Exhibition (Review)

Story & review by Jack Foley

THERE is not a person among us, I doubt, who hasn't - at one time or another - been moved by a photographic news image.

Be it the horrific pictures depicting the assassination of John F Kennedy, the moment when US soldiers triumphantly raised their nation's flag at Iwo Jima (during the Second World War) or, more recently, the devastating events of September 11, 2001, images such as these have become part of the modern psyche.

There is now an insatiable lust among the public to see whatever is being reported - from the moment it begins, to the moment it ends. The Gulf War was as much an exercise in PR and media relations than it was, at times, a serious conflict.

A major new exhibition at West End gallery Proud Central, which opened on Thursday, February 14, 2001, captures some of the images which have shaped our world.

Entitled Shots That Changed The World, the exhibition has been compiled mainly from the millions of photographs contained in the Associated Press archives and covers some of the biggest stories and events that have occurred over the past 100 years.

Selected by double-Pulitzer Prize winner Horst Faas, a senior photo editor at Associated Press, the images cover events such as the Hindenburg Disaster, Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination and, of course, the Twin Towers.

According to Faas, now 'feels like the right time to review the impact photography has had over the past hundred years - and that is what Shots That Changed The World sets out to do'.

The pictures have been selected to demonstrate the change in the role of photography during the course of the 20th Century, 'from merely reflecting and recording events to creating them; from illustrating a story to becoming, at times, the most effective way of telling it'.


History can be as cruel as it can be inspiring and this exhibition, for me, captured both. The first floor of the gallery is devoted to the events of September 11 - images taken during and after the events of that day.

And from the images capturing the horrific moments before the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center building, to the Twin Towers exploding (above right) and the aftermath of what happened, they remain as haunting and surreal as they were when first projected on to television screens across the globe on that world-altering day.

I stood transfixed, hopelessly lost in the moments captured before me; moments which depict a great deal of heroism as well as suffering; of great sadness and, above all, waste. I have since walked the New York streets captured in these digital images covered by a Pompeii-like ash from the crumbled buildings, and I have viewed, from the Empire State Building, the vastly different New York skyline and continue to feel sad, angry and confused.

You cannot fail to be moved by these images and they are an effective way of paying tribute for anyone unable to make the trip to the Big Apple to do so in person.

Thereafter, we travelled downstairs to the rest of the exhibition, which captures some of the defining moments of the Twentieth Century - moments which appalled, or moments which inspired, or simply moments which capture an icon in their glory.

Press photography is not just about conveying bad news. And some great sporting, movie, and musical icons are included in the exhibition; from John Lennon and Yoko Ono staging a peace protest from their bed, surrounded by the world's press; to Cassius Clay standing over a felled opponent, taunting him; right through to that infamous shot of Marilyn Monroe on a New York street wearing a white dress, such images are capable of bringing a smile to the face.

But the majority of the exhibition does cover the sadder moments that have defined history; images taken from the Vietnam War (of the suffering of children, of the return of defeated soldiers), from the Second World War and of disasters such as the Hindenburg. Indeed, there are moments of sickening brutality portrayed in this exhibition which can only bring gasps of dismay, such is their intensity.

Whatever you may think of them, however, they remain an important record and a tribute to the photographers who have taken them.

Proud Gallery, too, is an intimate place to view them; set behind The Strand and tucked away from the mainstream, there were just the right amount of people inside to effectively view them without ever feeling the need to rush. And this was important. The £3 cover charge was also worth paying; even if the £100 cost of some of the digital prints felt a little cynical given much of the subject matter.

Shots That Changed The World is a richly satisfying experience and a memorable way of spending an afternoon. If you haven't seen it already, then now is the time to take in some visual history.

Shots That Changed The World is on until March 24 at Proud Central, 5 Buckingham Street, London, WC2N 6BP. 10am - 7pm every day, £3 (£2 concessions). Tel: 020 7839 4942.
Nearest Tube: Embankment/Charing Cross