Late Photography is difficult to describe and in many cases difficult to understand. David Campany likens late photography to an undertaker, summariser, or accountant:
It turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened, totting up the effects of the world’s activity. (1)
It is a fairly recent genre that has developed since the end of the 90’s. It involves either being commissioned or going independently to an area, where something has already happened, and making still images. This ‘something’ may be a natural disaster or a man made one. Man made disasters include wars or activities associated with war such as testing of war equipment. There are no ‘rules” about how these images should be made. Books are often created from the resultant images or they are exhibited in galleries.
The number and nationalities of photographers producing “late Photographs” is growing. Individual motivation, for the work, differs from one photographer to another. For some it is commissioned work as in the case of Paul Seawright (2), who was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum London to undertake a war art commission in Afghanistan and his photographs of battle-sites and minefields have subsequently been exhibited. Others create their work out of personal traumatic events that they have witnessed. Willie Doherty’s, work is rooted in the politics and topography of his native Derry (3). He witnessed the horrific events of Bloody Sunday which has greatly influenced his ‘late’ photography. For me his overwritten monochrome images of the 80’s are easier to interpret. Later he abandoned the practice of overwriting his colour images. I find these later images very difficult to understand. To me they look like very depressing images of bleak landscapes. Nadav Kander explores the vestiges of the Cold War through the radioactive ruins of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia (4). His images were exhibited under the title Dust. This work is self explanatory and very striking. It can be easily understand. Sophie Ristelhueber is described as a ‘late photographer’. I am not sure she would consider herself as such. She describes her work in Kuwait, Fait, as not about war but it’s only a work about scars. (5). Joel Meyerowitz said his reason for creating Aftermath (6) was to leave a record for history of how Ground Zero looked following the downing of the Twin Towers.
It is not always clear why photographers become late photography. It is tempting to surmise that it suits the perpetrators of war better to have these ‘after the fact’ images rather than the raw reality of war. It is said that Vietnam was that last ‘photographer’s war’. The war in Iraq was the first in which photographers were embedded. Photographers were dressed like soldiers and travelled with the armies both British and American. In this way the warring countries were able to ‘control’ what images the public were allowed to see. Simon Norfolk, a onetime photographer of literal battlefields in Afghanistan is extremely exercised by this whole new turn of events. We, the public, are being controlled. He describes working as an independent war photographer in Iraq. He used his large format camera and dressed in a Hawaiian shirt. In so doing he believed no one could take him seriously and in this way he could shoot what he wanted to. He has now tuned away from war photography to become a photographer of how war makes the world we live in. For Norfolk it seems to be an inevitable progression to try to get behind the scenes, the cyberspace of modern warfare (7)
It is hard to know where war photography is going. Embedding photographers is one worrying trend which results in sanatised images reaching the public. Another, for me, is this ‘late photography’ which creates stark, melancholic images of places where something, often wars, has happened. Equally worrying is Joel Meyerowitz’s work at Ground Zero which resulted in magnificent, hauntingly beautiful images of that tragic event on the 11th of September 2001. What are we, the public, to be allowed to see of war in the future?
- Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ | David Campany. 2016. Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ | David Campany. [ONLINE] Available at: http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
- Willie Doherty: DISTURBANCE, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane free admission. 2016. Willie Doherty: DISTURBANCE, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane free admission. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.hughlane.ie/past/403-autumn-programme. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
- Nadav Kander – Dust – Exhibitions – Flowers Gallery. 2016. Nadav Kander – Dust – Exhibitions – Flowers Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.flowersgallery.com/exhibitions/view/nadav-kander-dust. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
- Sophie Ristelhueber Interviewed – FOTO8. 2016. Sophie Ristelhueber Interviewed – FOTO8. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.foto8.com/live/sophie-ristelhueber-interviewed/. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
- Joel Meyerowitz : Photographer. 2016. Joel Meyerowitz : Photographer. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.joelmeyerowitz.com/photography/book_aftermath.asp. [Accessed 02 April 2016
- War/Photography: An Interview with Simon Norfolk – BLDGBLOG. 2016. War/Photography: An Interview with Simon Norfolk – BLDGBLOG. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bldgblog.com/2006/12/warphotography-an-interview-with-simon-norfolk/. [Accessed 13 April 2016]