To some, the idea of war photography immediately invokes the image of soldiers on the battlefield, a visual story that has been documented again and again throughout conflicts dating back over the past century.
But after a decade in which thousands of people were killed and thousands more severely injured in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the concept of war has become something more human and more personal — in part because of the efforts of photojournalists.
Through photos, they’ve sought to more fully document how war isn’t confined to the battlefield — but that the daily reality of conflict has a lasting impact well beyond the battle zone, where the scars, both emotional and physical, are hard to heal.
That’s part of the driving force behind “War/Photography: Images of Conflict and Its Aftermath,” an exhibition that opens Friday at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. The exhibit, which originated at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, features nearly 400 photographs spanning more than 165 years, from the Mexican-American War in 1846 through the civil uprising in Libya in 2011.
It includes some of the most memorable images of conflict, including Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the Marines raising an American Flag at Iwo Jima and Eddie Adams’ shot of a Viet Cong prisoner being assassinated on the streets of Saigon — one of the most famous images of the Vietnam War… MORE
November 8, 2013–February 2, 2014
Robert E. Blum Gallery, 1st Floor
WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath explores the experience of war with an unprecedented collection of 400 photographic prints, books, magazines, albums, and camera equipment, bringing together iconic and unknown images taken by members of the military, commercial portraitists, journalists, amateurs, artists, and numerous Pulitzer Prize–winning photographers.
Including the work of some 255 photographers from around the globe who have covered conflicts over the last 166 years, WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY examines the interrelationship between war and photography, reveals the evolution of the medium by which war is recorded and remembered, and explores the range of experience of armed conflict: recruitment, training, embarkation, daily routine, battle, death and destruction, homecoming, and remembrance. In addition to depicting the phases of war, WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY includes portraits of servicemen, military and political leaders, and civilians and refugees… MORE
Susan Sontag was right: War photography can anesthetize
A troubling new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art throws into question the medium’s very purpose
Sunday, Jan 5, 2014 01:00 AM +0100)
SKULLS OF DISSENTERS crushed under military tanks. Bleeding protesters dragged through streets. Stones flung, and gun shots fired aimlessly. Such are the scenes of horror depicted in The Square (2013), Jehane Noujaim’s harrowing, award-winning documentary that follows a group of young revolutionaries active in the Egyptian uprising. “If we have cameras, the revolution is ours,” Khalid, one of the revolutionaries, says, prompting his comrades to record the violence that’s all around them. Uploaded to YouTube, and proliferated by clicks and shares on Facebook and Twitter, these disturbing scenes bring to light what is not broadcast in Egypt’s censored media. The camera becomes a revolutionary tool—and filming a mode of truth-telling. But, while recording is a redemptive act, it has its limits. In one of the film’s many startling moments, a police officer attempts to seize the director’s camera. It hits the ground; the screen turns to black, leaving us in the dark. Without the camera, we are blind.
On a visit to the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition, “WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath,” “from the Mexican-American war in 1846 through the Civil War in Libya in 2012,” I feel, once again, that I am in the darkness—and it’s not just the space’s dim lighting. A mammoth display of 400 photographs charting conflicts the world over, the show is too dense, too shocking to sift through. It’s easy to get lost in the excess: bloody corpses strewn on a battlefield; flag-covered coffins boarding commercial flights; wounded veterans playing with their children; departing refugees, torn from their loved ones; civilians decimated, raped, murdered; a toddler splattered in blood. Exhibited en masse, these images begin to meld together into a wearying stream of horrifying photos, but it is difficult to ground them in any sort of context. The photographs are not organized chronologically, or even grouped together with other images pertaining to the conflicts they depict. Rather, as its introductory placard explains, the exhibit “seeks to offer a more comprehensive exploration of the type of images created in any conflict, without regard to era or nationality… Instead, they are arranged according to what might be called the general progression—the ‘arc’—of every war.”
But the trajectory of war is not as smooth as the Brooklyn Museum would have us believe. It shuttles its viewers through the supposed stages of war (quoted from the exhibit’s page on the museum’s website): “recruitment, training, embarkation, daily routine, battle, death and destruction, homecoming, and remembrance.” By adhering to such a regimented order, the curators of “WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY” have committed a cardinal error, reducing the many conflicts represented in favor of a singular, over simplistic—and dangerously misleading—narrative of war. The exhibition is laid out a little like a formula for war: “Here’s some we made earlier,” it seems to say.
“What determines the possibility of being affected morally by photographs is the existence of a relevant political consciousness,” she wrote. “Without a politics, photographs of the slaughter-bench of history will most likely be experienced as, simply, unreal or as a demoralizing emotional blow.”… MORE