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Tryst cafe owner Constantine Stavropoulos was a bit worried that some of his patrons might literally lose their lunch over photographer Martin Leuders’ 41 shots of torture victims and war refugees, so he had Leuders hang the grisliest shots way in the back of the cafe. Leuders’ most graphic shot, of a Sierra Leone grandfather with his arms and legs freshly hacked off by a machete, hangs like a sword of Damocles on the wall above a couch at the cafe’s rear. “While I realize that some of them are hard to look at,” says Leuders, “I also believe that this is an appropriate venue to try to raise consciousness.”
Leuders is a big guy, tall and squarely built, and looks as if he could fight his way out of hairy situations. He was a Golden Gloves boxer in Chicago before taking up freelance photojournalism. His crooked camera angles look as though he might have dropped the camera or snapped his photo on the run, or both, but none of the photographs are cropped. “That’s how I shot them,” he says.
His style of urban street photography manages to capture the hidden ironies, the humanity amidst the tragedy, in a way that transcends photojournalism. He describes them as “a moment in time that means fuck-all.”
“World Piece” is Leuders’ third show at Tryst. Last year, he hung “World Hands,” a series of photographs of hands from Third World countries, and last January Tryst hosted Leuders’ “Small World” exhibit, featuring 40 black-and-white shots of children from four African countries. Many of the shots from “Small World” were published last summer in a book, Playing for Keeps: Children and War in Africa, commissioned by the Childrens and Orphans Fund.
Leuders’ “World Piece” opening kicked off a low-key, eight-week lecture series at Tryst on topics from land-mine victims to war criminals that will surely amplify his images. Last Thursday evening, freelance journalist Frank Smythe addressed the question of whether human rights represent universal values. “In other words,” said Smythe, “if you’re committing human-rights violations in your country, is it my business even though it’s not my country?”—Patrick Tracey
Lectures will accompany “World Piece” Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for the next seven weeks.