Documentary photography is seen as the backbone of the art - socially aware and honest. Some of the outstanding pioneers of this tradition worked for the great magazines, Life and National Geographic, and many formed into recognised agencies, such as Magnum. Each photographer had an individual style, often borne from working in solitude, exploring avenues and corners, which revealed stories which needed telling - visual secrets that were revealed. With the advent of the celebrity culture there became less of an opportunity for these image-makers to be seen, for their stories to be told. It made it an even lonelier experience to find the stories, to care enough to document them, returning over and over to make sure that there was honesty in the images. It is always exciting to find a photographer who does just that. His name is Tom Stanworth and his images tell a story about him and the lives that mean so much to his visual and social awareness. Watch out for Tom. He is good. Very, very good.
Tom’s photographs from Afghanistan was an experience I was somewhat unprepared for.... What Tom showed me was completely different. He hadn’t sought to photograph as much of the country as possible or to try to document swathes of its very recent history – no single photographer could realistically attempt that. Instead, he had brought his eye and his mind to bear on a small group of people living in a comparatively small part of Kabul and to tell of how they were living and what they faced. There were – from memory – no soldiers, no Taliban, no Kalashnikovs and none of the images that would fit into what we normally see of Afghanistan. Tom’s work is fresh and shows the signs of a photographer clearly finding his inspiration in the traditions of the ‘concerned photographer’. His images document real people rather than the cold, hard edges of ‘events’.
Powerful yet touching insights into a world read about in The Kite Flyer and shown all too often for solely grim reasons on TV, Tom really is like a private gumshoe photographer who hunts down his subjects with unique skills and delivers the goods in the form of hitherto unseen imagery. Families flying kites in chosen dusty sites in the hills above Kabul with achingly beautiful dusk light adorning the valley; boys and men playing football in an abandoned swimming pool in a blizzard in knee-deep snow; desperate addicts eeking out their days in the bullet-strewn ruins of a long-since disused Russian Cultural Centre.... Tom captures scenes of innocence and family lives against a nightmare backdrop of centuries of tribal conflict... It should also be said that despite outrageously trying conditions the technical quality of Tom’s photography is literally unsurpassable; beautiful observation married to obsessive pursuit of technical perfection.... A stubborn, determined and brilliant artist who loves his subjects, Tom has given me hours of pleasure and a vicarious glimpse into other worlds 1000s of lifeyears away.
Tom Stanworth’s images capture the brutal human reality of the drug dependent’s existence in Kabul. Opiate addiction is reported to be increasing in Afghanistan, a land torn apart by war, criminality and corruption. And yet Tom Stanworth’s photography manages the difficult job of balancing the horror with hope. There is vibrancy to his photography that is testimony to the resilience of the people of Afghanistan and the craftsmanship of the photographer.