I’d intended for the post below to be the final one here, but then this just happened at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service—not exactly a funeral, to be fair, but I’ll just go ahead and take credit for the whole thing. Thank you, world, and good night!
I have not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude that there are adverse impacts to human beings or to animals or to plant life at this small level of climate change
I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.
War Photography – a survey of, you guessed it … – is perhaps the most frustrating yet rewarding exhibits I’ve visited in New York.
Shows at the Brooklyn Museum often seem to serve as warnings to aspiring museum curators for how not to organize an exhibit: crowded or sparsely inhabited spaces, poor lighting, no discernible direction by which a visitor should travel through a space. They are lessons in how to disregard a visitor and underemphasize the elements of a collection.
War Photography is a particular disaster in regards to curatorial execution. If the goal is to feel a fog of war or combativeness with one’s fellow museum patrons, then the exhibit is a resounding success. I doubt, though, that such distressful navigation of the exhibit spaces was the intent.
Panels upon which much of the photography are displayed run at acute angles to walls, meaning as one moves through the packed exhibit a greater number of visitors are funneled into tighter and tighter spaces. Those tight geographies are often poorly light. So, too, are many wide-open spaces, leaving title cards or the displayed works difficult to view.
Which is shameful given the expansive – and high-quality – collection of work on display. In this regard War Photography is, despite the poor presentation, a must-see exhibition.
Spanning 166 years, the show includes 400 works from 255 photographers from around the world.
[photo credit unknown]
There are the iconic photographs from Roger Fenton and Robert Capa, who brought the far away events of the Crimean War and D-Day to curious audiences and served as pioneering photojournalists that continue to be guiding forces in how practitioners of war photography and consumers of it approach the genre.
Late 20th and early 21st century luminaries of photojournalism offer views from the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the dozens of conflicts occurring in Africa that go largely forgotten outside of that continent. The exhibition touches upon every imaginable conflict in between.
Originally hung in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the show includes some ephemera, such as early camera equipment, and the filmic work of fallen war photographer Tim Hetherington, who was killed along with Chris Hondros in Misrata, Libya in 2011. Hetherington’s “Diary” is a somber meditation on the emotionally and physically exhausting conditions visited by photojournalists and the alienation that results as they bounce from one conflict to the next, negotiating along the way families, friends, and careers.
Those are the show’s strengths.
The most disappointing aspect of the exhibit, though, is its complete disinterest – given its triumphal assembly of so many photographs – in trying to make sense of all this work, or, more importantly to provoke a viewer to asks questions of the work. What do these images tell us about war? About photographic attempts to represent war? About how these images reflect or impact broader political and cultural issues and beliefs?
[Roger Fenton’s “Valley of the Shadow of Death” (1855)]
One example: Fenton’s “Valley of The Shadow of Death” and Capa’s “Falling Soldier” have been called into question for being staged, something touched upon in title cards. Yet, mention is all too brief. This could have been a moment where the curators foregrounded a discussion of the role of photography and notions of authenticity. Unfortunately, they do not.
[Robert Capa’s “Falling Soldier” (1936)]
Similar missed opportunities exist throughout, especially since the work is not arranged chronologically or thematically, but by subject, such as “Executions,” “Refugees,” or “Civilians.”
Nevertheless, the show is impressive for its gathering in one place of so many great works from over a century and a half of photojournalism.
A catalogue of the exhibition is available for $90 – a hefty financial commitment but an excellent volume.