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The photo that shaped me

New Statesman contributors tell the stories behind their favourite photographs.

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Olivia Laing on Annie Leibovitz’s “The Girls”  

I’ve had a copy of this photo of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon on my desk for years. When I got married, I dug it out.

Howard Jacobson on his mother’s eyes

Is it only because this is a photograph of my mother that I feel protective of it?

Lucy Ellmann on her childhood bird costume

I was about five when this picture was taken, and already getting too big for my bird costume.

Kevin Barry on Elvis’s packed lunch

Your eyes do not deceive: Elvis Presley buys a packed lunch from a platform vendor. 

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld: “Openly Falling” 

A new poem by the International Booker Prize winner, written in response to Curtis Parratt’s photo “Fall (5)”.

Christina Lamb on Benazir Bhutto

No photo in my writing room is quite as poignant as this one of Bhutto, taken on 27 December 2007. Less than an hour later, she would be dead.

Suzanne Moore on her grandmother’s baby

Here is a picture of my grandmother, Grace, with the only child she gave birth to.

Deborah Levy on Sister Rosetta Thorpe

The godmother of rock’n’roll is my role model for middle age, old age and any age.

Grayson Perry on his father’s motorbike

When I was four, my dad left because my mother had an affair with the milkman. I remember his bike leaning against the wall of our council house.

Rowan Williams on Madeleine Delbrêl 

Here she is, squatting down, head cocked, birdlike, to listen to a small girl.

Jason Okundaye on his childhood home

My council flat became a source of shame – but the boy in this photograph knows nothing of that feeling



This article appears in the 11 December 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special