Images that capture the extremes of human experience
Review By Grady Harp
What began as a ten year investigation and slow building of images and ideas from Anne Wilkes Tucker , curator of photography, Will Michaels, collections photographer, and Natalie Zeit, curatorial assistant in photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston resulted in this massive book of images of war that range from daguerreotypes from the mid 19th Century wars (the American Civil War, the Crimean War), when the camera was first used to document the tragedy of war, to the present. The book not only is overflowing with images of wars from every country around the globe over the past two hundred plus years, but it also is an homage to the war photographers who risked their lives to capture the horrors of war for posterity. The contributors to the written aspects of the book include Anne Wilkes Tucker, Will Michels, Natalie Zelt, Liam Kennedy, Hilary Roberts, John Stauffer, Bodo Von Dewitz, Jeff Hunt, and Natalie Zeldin. The book’s essays investigate the immediate impact, dissemination, and historical influence of war photography.
The exhibition/experience traveled to Los Angeles at the Annenberg Space for Photography where this reader experienced the shock of the closing day of the exhibition. Though the Los Angeles venue was pared down in number of photographs presented, it added a running film in which photographers who have photographed the wars and survived presented the impact their experiences caused. The impact of the images and the manner in which they were grouped mirrors the fine layout of the book. From multiple images of the 9/11 attack the book addresses all wars as they are in action, the results of the wars on citizens, refugees, soldiers from both sides, the decimation of land, the memorials, the shock of seeing fields and trenches of dead bodies, the practice of medicine in the field as in Vietnam where medics are seen salvaging the triage concept, to some unexpected images of soldiers at leisure (as much as leisure is possible in war zones), and the return of soldiers to their homelands.
Some of the images are icons – the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, the execution of a Vietcong fighter on the streets of Saigon, a screaming Vietnamese girl running naked toward the camera and away from a napalm bombing, the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War – but many are of images we have not seen before in book form or in an exhibition space: images of refugee camps, munitions factories, Saddam Hussein’s spider-hole hideaway, the War in Chechnya, a conflict between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, fought from December 1994 to August 1996 culminating in the devastating Battle of Grozny, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the multiple wars of the Middle East and of Africa.
There are scenes of death and horror, grief and survival, but also moments of warmth and humanity when the shooting has stopped. This is a book that should be seen and read by everyone around the globe as a sobering prayer that war and the pity of war will end.
Grady Harp, June 2013
TITLE: WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and its Aftermath
AUTHOR: ANNE WILKES TUCKER
PUBLISHER: MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, HOUSTON