8th March 2015
I put off going to this exhibition until the week before it close because the concept didn’t really appeal to me. Perhaps in the past I have just been to too many exhibitions of war photojournalism and initially I thought this was just another one. After reading some reviews I realised that the concept of the exhibition was different, instead of showing the events of war the focus was on the aftermath. From pictures taken minutes after an event to those taken more than 100 years after an event much the exhibition concentrates on traces of conflict in the landscape rather the direct impact on people. As you walk through the galleries of the photographs move from scenes moments after conflict, days and weeks later to finally 85-100 years after. There are well know photographs and more obscure work but overall the impression is one of unremitting depression. It is not an easy exhibition to view and at the end I felt rung out, educated and in some ways disappointed. Viewing the exhibition forces the viewer to remember events they have heard about in history lesions, news stories that were perhaps long forgotten and events that were previously unknown.
The exhibition starts with pictures of the black and white mushroom cloud caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima without looking at the text these could just be pictures of cloud formations but with knowledge of the subject matter they take on a very different very chilling and eerie feel.
Also in the first room is Don McCullin’s photograph of a shell-shocked Marine taken minutes after combat in Vietnam. This is a classic photography that has been reproduce many times but seeing the marines trance like stare as he tightly grips his rifle it was to me the highlight of the exhibition saying more about war and its effect on people than many of the following works together.
As the exhibition continued there were more classic photographs, Roger Fenton’s “The valley of the Shadow of Death” that shows the site of the charge of the light brigade in the Crimean war although now there seems to be debate about whether the cannon balls were added to this scene before the picture was taken.
Not surprising there is focus on events that humanity should perhaps be ashamed of, the aftermath of the bombing of Dresden and numerous pictures of the effects of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some of these are well known like Richard Peter’s “Dresden After Allied Raids”.
Others less well known but equally powerful like Matsumoto Eiichi’s image of the shadow of a guard that has been burnt onto a wall in Nagasaki by the atomic Bomb blast.
Perhaps with an exhibition like this it is unreasonable to pick out favourites but there was work I hadn’t seen before that I think really captured the essence of the show. Firstly I liked the work of Sophie Ristelhueber showing the impact of the first gulf war on the desert landscape.. In this series of pictures there were scenes from many different perspectives from aerial shots that made the aftermath of battle look like abstract patterns to close ups that make the detritus of war somehow quite beautiful
I also like the work of Simon Norfolk like the picture of the herd of goats moving past a partially destroyed building and bullet ridden car in Afghanistan to me really this captures the idea that life goes on and was a beacon of hope in what was, certainly in the later galleries a very stark and tear jerking exhibition.