WAR / Photography

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Location: 2000 Avenue of the Stars #1000, Century City

I walked into this exhibition expecting at the very least to be emotionally challenged when coming face-to-face with the realities of war violence in a very direct and visually compelling way; to see a side of photography that I have never personally explored outside the occasional graphic or heart wrenching photo released in the media.

WAR/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and its Aftermath is the newest exhibition at The Annenberg Space for Photography that examines the imagery of war and its consequences. 75 photographers whose lenses have captured war as early as the Mexican American War in 1847 to the Libyan Civil War that ended in late 2011 are profiled.

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What I appreciated about this moving experience, was the structure in telling the narrative. Rather than displaying photos together by specific wars, the curators opted to tell the story of conflict, collectively, as an arc. As such, the presentation begins with the advent of combat, disclosing images that illustrate the exact moment that provokes a war; to memorials and remembrance, sharing the aftermath of destruction, death, and survival. Between these concrete bookends of beginning and end, the show spends time forming a powerful narrative arc by navigating areas such as: recruitment, rescue, the fight, daily life, post-traumatic stress disorder, medicine/triage, prisoners of war, refugees, impact on children, how faith/religion are handled, and even burial procedures among many other dynamic themes.

One of the first questions that came into my mind when I was first introduced to WAR/Photography, was why? Why do these photojournalists put their lives and mental well-being on the line to capture an image during live combat? Do we really need such graphic and melancholy pictures to know that war and violence is inherently bad? This is not to disrespect those who do choose to pursue the honorable career of war/military photography and have died in the process or any subject highlighted in the photos, but merely an honest thought that crossed my mind when approaching the content. I found my answer when watching the 30 minute short documentary complimenting the exhibition that loops in the main gallery space. When one photojournalist said that his aim was to “personalize war”  in an effort to “mature society” a light bulb went off in my head. The point, of course, is not only to document what’s happening (this I knew); but to visually humanize faces, names, family members, lives, cities, countries, people. This makes absolute sense to me. It’s a raw portrait of humanity.

Luckily, I watched the documentary before roaming the gallery. Having understood this fundamental observation for war photography straight from their mouths, I looked at the images in front of me with new eyes. Not to say that I wouldn’t have understood, appreciated, and respected the exhibition and its message without this explanation from the video; but I think getting to know some of the people behind the pictures and their purpose for risking their lives (and almost certain PTSD diagnosis) after having lived through such an ordeal for their mission to capture the story was inspiring.

I don’t know if it’s because it was the first set of photographs exhibited or perhaps because it’s still such a vivid memory in my lifetime as an American; but the 4 part picture series of the second plane heading toward the World Trade Center on 9/11, the North tower already in flames, capturing the exact moment that lead to the on-going War in Afghanistan, affected me immediately and set the tone for what would be a heavy experience as I made my way through the gallery.

I encourage you to see this exhibition. Beware, it’s graphic in nature – but an experience unlike anything you’ve seen. It’s disturbing, it’s infuriating, it’s moving, it’s humanizing. The exhibition runs until June 2nd.


{A trailer for the documentary complimenting the exhibition is below.}

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