Guardian Eyewitness exhibition at Foyles in London

Opening next week at the flagship Foyles bookstore on Charing Cross Road in London is an exhibition of photographs by David Levene that have appeared in the Guardian Eyewitness series. A selection of the images are shown here, and we talk to Roger Tooth, head of photography at the Guardian, about what makes a good Eyewitness image…

Szechenyi Baths, Budapest, 2006

Opening next week at the flagship Foyles bookstore on Charing Cross Road in London is an exhibition of photographs by David Levene that have appeared in the Guardian Eyewitness series. A selection of the images are shown here, and we talk to Roger Tooth, head of photography at the Guardian, about what makes a good Eyewitness image…

The Eyewitness series has appeared as a double-page spread in the centre of the Guardian since 2005, when the newspaper introduced its Berliner format. Levene has produced images for it from the start and has had over 120 photos featured in the slot, which appears daily. For the exhibition at Foyles he has picked his ten favourites – each will be reproduced in large format in the space, at over 1.5 metres across.

WSOP, Las Vegas, 2007

Boca La Caja, Panama City, 2008

According to Tooth, the Eyewitness spread was initially due to appear only three days a week, but when the team saw the impact of producing photography at such a large scale, they decided to run it daily. “The ideal Eyewitness picture has to be strong visually and the subject must justify the treatment,” Tooth continues. “It needs to have a lot of detail to retain and reward the viewer’s interest. It works well when the majority of, or all the image is in focus: large, out-of-focus areas seem ugly when scaled-up. Quite a challenge for the Guardian’s picture editors.”

Bathing, Varanasi, 2007

Slipstream, Heathrow, 2014

The image that will appear in the slot is decided on the day, with the picture editors presenting options to the duty editor at midday. “Sometimes we have planned something, but as often as not it’s a picture that has been shot by us or submitted to us on the day,” says Tooth.

“We try to change the mood of the image each day,” he continues. “A hard news image one day might be followed by an arts subject the next. The large picture agencies send us a tremendous variety of subjects, some of the most beautiful are often those ‘slice of life’ images documenting the daily lives of people from around the world. Like David’s image from Varanasi (above). Always popular are images from the natural world: we’ve published some memorable polar bears and elephants.”

Ballerinas, London, 2008

Kibera, Nairobi, 2006

“Nothing is off-limits subject-wise,” continues Tooth, “although in these days of grim news and very serious papers with the content reflecting events, we sometimes use the centre-spread to leaven the mood of the day’s edition…. Occasionally we will use the pages for a picture spread, although the single picture is the daily aim. The single picture is a far bolder statement, a tremendous vote of confidence in a photograph for its beauty or the strength of its news value. David’s fascinating photograph of slums next to high-rise developments in Panama City is a great example of photojournalism, while his picture from the Royal Opera House has a compelling beauty. These pictures also have a tremendous feeling of ‘being there’, being an eyewitness.”

While the Eyewitness series perhaps works best in print, where it is the only daily print photo feature of this size in the UK press, it has also proved popular on digital platforms. “It has translated very successfully to an online app,” says Tooth, “which looks great on a high-definition tablet screen.”

Filling Station, Dhaka, 2013

Honbasho, Osaka, 2009. All images courtesy David Levene

‘David Levene: Eyewitness’ will be on show at The Gallery at Foyles on Charing Cross Road from September 2 until October 26. The exhibition is curated by Mark Davy of Futurecity. David Levene will also take part in a discussion about the Eyewitness series on September 24 at 7pm. This event is free, but tickets need to be reserved in advance – more info is here.

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