26 November 2014 – 15 March 2015
Conflict, Time and Photography
Tate Modern’s latest exhibition features a string of work by photojournalists and artists. Their primary source material is the aftermath of various conflicts from around the world.
Those looking for an alternative way of going through an exhibition will be treated. The show is ordered in various retrospective timelines. Upon entering the exhibition, you find yourself immediately confronted by The Mushroom Cloud, a triptych of photographs by Toshio Fukada taken a mere 20 minutes after the drop of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (Aug 6th 1945). The nebulous image carries with it a mighty change in world history. You are then quickly teleported through time where you encounter the next selection of images taken days after the selected conflict. The following room displaying images from weeks after, then months and eventually ending with photographs depicting decades after.
Not all the works on display go for the morbid shock factor, as one might expect from an exhibition heavily informed by photojournalism. Hrair Sarkissian (b.1973), of Armenian decent, decided to penetrate the vaults of memory by producing 3 large colour photographs titled Istory. They depict the history section of dusty unobserved public and semi-private archives in Istanbul. His photographs are blatant protests against the act of forgetting. Dark and murky, Sarkissian’s sole use of natural illumination presents us with evidence of neglect and denial when seen within Turkey’s historical context.
The exhibition is not meant to be a comprehensive recital of all conflicts since the mid-nineteenth century; there are several major wars that have not been included, like the Israeli – Palestinian conflict (mid 20th century – present) or the Rwandan genocide (1994). Though the producers of the exhibition did seem to show signs of geopolitical neutrality, including events like the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) and the South African Border War (1966 – 1990).
The 1995 Bosnian War, a lesser-discussed war, at least in contemporary times, was visited by photographer Taryn Simon. Her piece A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I –XVIII, focuses on the collision of psychological and physiological forces within the bloodline of one Bosnian family, 15 years after the Srebrenica Massacre. The portrait of the family, displayed in a line, is interrupted by images of tooth and bone samples of those killed during the massacre. Simon’s work differentiates itself from the rest of the photographic images in the exhibition with her exploration of the camera’s function as a device for gathering macabre evidence.
Without going into the idea that every event documented is an unrepeatable moment in time and thus unprecedented, Conflict, Time and Photography attempts to give you a new experience of photorealism. It is challenging to experience and not designed to be enjoyed. While strolling through the rooms, I couldn’t help but feel struck. Putting aside the obvious imagery of the lasting psychological and sociopolitical damages of war, I felt concerned about the way in which this exhibition, and all other journalistic media for that matter, happens to extract such events out of its context and into condensed linear items.
There is the photograph, and then there are the lives.
Written by Kosha Hussain