This is a genre with which I struggle all the time. I really do not see the point of going to a place after something momentous has happened there. However Arles managed to make some sense of this genre for me.
I started with Don McCullin as I knew that later in the day this exhibition would be thronged. I was rewarded by being one of only a couple people in the Eglise Ste Anne.
I was also happy to find that the “After War” in this exhibition refers to where McCullin sees himself at present. Much of his early work was done around Spittlefields in London, before he became a war photographer. There were a number of images of a homeless woman called Jean and many homeless Irish men. What I found shocking was that much of the work was created while I lived in London at the end of the 60’s and beginning of the 70’s. For me it was Swinging London..
There were several shots of Palmyria, Syria. These were made in peacetime, long before there was any trace of war.There were many dark brooding images of Somerset which, apparently, McCullin made when he returned from war torn regions.
Jan Morvan’s work Battlefields was, for me, a real After War set of images. He photographed places where war had taken place back as far as the 12th century through the American Civil War to North African wars and on to the modern central European wars. Morvan is a Parisian who used to work as a photojournalist. In 2004 he decided to abandon the action fields and to concentrate instead on making images of places where war had happened. The work took ten years to complete and ranged over many centuries and many countries. After war, the blurb says, nature once again becomes the imperturbable mistress of the place. Maybe it is still too soon in Misrata….
I did find Morvan’s work thought provoking principally because it was so wide ranging and the whole question of why we never learn that war causes massive destruction but often changes little.
Alexander Guirkinger’s exhibition, Maginot Line, is a series of the almost hidden and often unnoticed traces of the Maginot line which was constructed in the 1930s around France’s borders to protect the country from invasion by neighbours. Guirkinger photographed the traces from above, not entering any of the remaining tunnels of underground spaces. I felt this was a mistake and the resulting images lacked attraction. His IR image did not speak to me. However the images of fortified houses were eerie and interesting in their way.
However I was still asking why After War has become a genre in photography. Have we lost the guts to participate as witnesses in war? Only Dominic Nahr showed real war images in Arles. I went to his ‘walk around’ and was moved almost to tears by his passion for South Sudan and its warring factions. He traveled with one of the rebel groups and explained the difficulty of photographing war. But hearing him tell his story of this fledgling nation one could almost smell the horrors of war.
Looking Back at the Media’s Image of September 11, was my next After War exhibitions. Although this was marked as an exhibition where there were workshops, I was unable to catch any of these. I was especially interested in this group show as I had recently completed my essay on Joel Meyerowitch’s Aftermath on Ground Zero. I became even more excited when I saw that the artists here included many names that I had researched in my OCA work.
The theme of the work was “How short a time the horror of images lasts”. This is becomming more evident with the continuing terror attacks.
The first artist exhibited was Hans-Peter Feldman with Front Pages. It was interesting to see how a professional put together this exhibit. I had stuck front page images from a couple of newspapers in my learning log… Feldman worked in, what I would consider, a Germanic manner. Dozens of newspaper front papers were sourced and photographed then the front pages were lined up like soldiers on the wall. I lost inerest after the first ten….
Adam Broomberg and Olivier Chanarin, whom I had met (virtually) in my research had a single image in this exhibition. I found it interesting but a little too playful to express the enormity of the tragedy it represented. However on reading the blurb, which I did after viewing the image i understood a little better what the artists were saying. The blurb read: reduced to simple cubes these ‘American targets’ are transpositions of data based on an image analysis code the photographers designed. Each colour and size matches a resolution, colour or distance from the subject. The analytical grid is based on the New York Times front page dated 12 September 2001. The forms underscore the reality gap between the effects of weapons of mass destruction and those who remote control them like a video game. The shift to a schematic world recreates the prospects for a critical voice in a increasingly precarious society evoked by these obviously flimsy colour cubes.
Beside the above image was JoJakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger’s work. They according to the label on the piece borrow famous media images to recreate scenes from contemporary history, in the studio, taking care to leave the constituent parts visible. A double immortalisation of the facts, their work is a stage where the set outside the shot suggests the multiple ruses, modern techniques allow. I found this image surreal. I kept asking myself why would anyone go to all this effort to recreate a tragic scene. The work involved and the end result were extremely interesting. Maybe this is the ‘value’ of such work. Another work in this genre was that of
Joan Fontcuberta, another artist known, virtually, to me so I was anxious to see his work. As an ex science teacher I feel I have something in common with him. He reworks images using software to make montages, collages and all kinds of counterfeit documents. The image he created, using free photo mosaic software, made use of 8,000 images he found on Google. The words he used to search Google were extremely interesting: God, Yahweh and Allah. I loved this work.
Thomas Hirschorn claims his work is a way of connecting the unspeakable to the abstract. I am not sure what exactly he means by this phrase as the mannequin was anything but abstract but presumably the abstraction is in the fact that the figure has nor had nothing to do with 9/11
But the most impressive installation of this group exhibition, for me, was the work, Breaking News, which involved banks of TV screens on which was playing reports from the 11th September 2001. It was electrifying. The space was only a couple of meters square with these floor to ceiling screens blaring out the news. That well worn phrase ‘lest we forget‘ came to mind. I have made a short video which I am converting to put on Vimeo.