Posts Tagged ‘An-My Lê

08
Aug
21

Review: ‘An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain’ at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Exhibition dates: 18th April – 8th August 2021

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Hanoi' 1995

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Hanoi
1995
From the series Viêt Nam (1994-98)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

 

“In their essential nature men do not change. The great and noble, the Masters of Life, will be great and noble to the end of time, and to contemplate them and their deeds inspires us to endeavour to emulate them. Learn whom a man venerates, and you can come to judge his character. Like is assimilated unto like. The mind approaches that which it continually contemplates, and kindred inevitably follow.”

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Alvin Langdon

 

 

Disguising power as virtue or, the Inner Landscape of Beauty

One of the great assets of VR, especially in times of lockdown, is that you can view an exhibition from a distance. Such is the case with this strong exhibition by Vietnamese-American photographer An-My Lê at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. It gives the viewer the ability to come to grips with an artists work displayed as a whole, to contemplate the myriad threads that run through the five bodies of work that are presented in the exhibition.

While there are no remarkable “hero” shots contained within the body of Lê’s work, collectively the photographs from each series build a serious interrogation into the contested terrains of colonialism, war, the military, racism and protest. As we know with life nothing is ever black and white, and through her classically inspired photographs Lê probes the interweaving of existence, desire, possession and control in the landscape, in the landscape of life. As assistant curator Kirsten Gaylord observes, “Her photographs consider questions that we are all thinking about now: What does it mean to be an American citizen? How does our country’s history shape our contemporary lives? What should be the role of the U.S. in the world?” These are complex issues which Lê addresses with intelligence and rigorous conceptualisation, fully aware of the paradoxes that exist within her inquiry.

My favourite series are the more personal and engaging, the more empathetic and feeling of the works – the first and the last, Viêt Nam (1994-98) and Silent General (2015-ongoing). In Viêt Nam, Lê returns to her homeland of Vietnam after almost 20 years with her large format camera. The resulting meditation on homeland evidenced in beautiful, perfectly formed photographs are moving and touching, poetic reveries on lost innocence, regained? In Silent General, Lê again again puts more of her self on the line, her photographs confronting the “issues of our time that are rooted in our history, from the fate of Confederate monuments to immigration debates around agricultural labourers.”

I am ambivalent about the other series in the exhibition, which while beautiful have a slightly chilly aura.

In the series Small Wars (1999-2002), Lê photographs Vietnam War reenactors in North Carolina and Virginia with the utmost sense of “authenticity” creating images that “explore the legacy and mythology of the Vietnam War for contemporary Americans.” In 29 Palms (2003-04) she photographs troops training in an American landscape similar to the one they would soon be deployed to in Iraq. In Events Ashore (2005-14) the artist photographs the crews of U.S. naval vessels around the world exploring the global reach of the American military, its diplomatic, humanitarian, military, and political activities.

In Small Wars and 29 Palms, Lê pictures a simulacra of war, simulations of a war already past (and lost), and a war yet to run its course, which would ultimately lead to the withdrawal of US forces. Her work blurs the boundaries between photojournalism and reality / fiction.

The photograph Ambush I (1999-2002, below) from Small Wars is eerily similar to Henri Huet’s photograph of Life magazine photographer Larry Burrows struggling through elephant grass in 1970 (below) with the difference that Burrows is helping to evacuate a wounded soldier, and that Huet, Burrows and two other photojournalists would be killed when their helicopter was shot down over Laos later in February 1971. Similarly, Lê’s photographs Mechanized Assault (2003-4) shows a pristine landscape foregrounded with immaculate tanks and personnel carriers in the American landscape… when in reality, American Marines photograph the burnt remains of Iraqi T-55 Main Battle Tanks amongst a non-descript landscape of shell holes and mundane buildings (16 April 2003, below). Further, while not a simulation, the very stillness and chillness of Events Ashore – the physical and metaphorical distance of the photographer from the subject, from the reason of the existence of the military – make the photographs in that series seem almost an apologia for the military.

In a quotation, Lê states that, “… I am not categorically against war. I was more interested in drawing people into my work, to think about the issues that envelop war – representations of war, landscape and terrain in war. When I’m working with the military, I still think of myself as a landscape photographer. My main goal is to try to photograph landscape in such a way that it suggests a universal history, a personal history, a history of culture.”

I understand what the photographer is attempting, but in one sense I remain unconvinced about the success of the mission.

Simply put, the raison d’etre for the military – despite all protestations to the contrary, despite all the good works they otherwise undertake – is “to engage in combat, should it be required to do so by the national defence policy, and to win. This represents an organisational goal of any military, and the primary focus for military thought through military history.” (Wikipedia) In terms of military doctrine,1 we note that in the history of the United States of America, the country has been at war 225 out of 243 years since 1776. America is a militarised society where the military prosecutes war on its own terms, disguising power as virtue. In terms of the prosecution of war, the country seems to be manifestly belligerent.

The outcome of any war is death. Sure, the soldiers might be there for economic or social reasons, they may experience fear and exhilaration, boredom and dreams, brotherhood and purpose, travel and education… but ultimately the military is a fighting and killing machine. “Young soldiers in combat inevitably confront killing. They take life away from others, and in so doing breach one of the most fundamental moral values of their society, often with long-term consequences.” Listening to an American veteran from the battle of Caens after the D-Day landings in 1944 recently in a documentary, he observed that all war is, is death – dead German soldiers, dead American soldiers, dead civilians. The reality (not a simulation or a reenactment) of Henri Huet’s photograph of dead soldiers, Bodies of US paratroopers lie near a command post during the battle of An Ninh (1965, below) is shocking and unimpeachable.

Soldiers kill. Human beings, civilian and military, die.

And then the military doesn’t want you to know about that. They cover it up. In World War 1, the British stopped posting lists of the missing and dead in the newspapers because there were so many of them. And in the Iraq war, the American military didn’t want photographs of American coffins in the back of a transport plane published because it would upset the families and the public. Even the metadata (hidden text data) written by the military contained in a public domain image of destroyed Iraqi tanks (see below) in 2003 states, “Operation IRAQI FREEDOM is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein.” Outright lies and deception … the invasion was illegal under international law as it violated the UN Charter, there were no weapons of mass destruction found, and no link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. The Iraq War caused at least one hundred thousand civilian deaths, as well as tens of thousands of military deaths.

Everyone is involved in the construction of the world. You can be informed or not. You have choices. Human beings have a choice to go into the military, or not. The problem is that human beings in power, in control (at the top of the military for example) inspire others to endeavour to emulate them. As Alvin Langdon observes, “Like is assimilated unto like. The mind approaches that which it continually contemplates, and kindred inevitably follow.”

Now, in another sense I believe that Lê achieves her aim, to suggest a universal history, a personal history, and a history of culture embodied in the landscape, suggestions that possibly sweep away landscapes of control.

As the Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue observed, “Even in landscapes of control you can be swept off your feet by sheer beauty.” Landscapes of control cannot stand before the power of beauty embodied in the landscape and in Lê’s photographs the memory of the landscape, its music, embeds itself in the photograph. Through the power of beauty, the Inner Landscape of Beauty (one that is metaphorical as much as physical, in the mind as much as it is externally verbalised), the photographs of An-My Lê subversively undermine the control of the military over the land: its occupation and colonisation of it, its wars to control it, and its very “uniform” presence in it. Look again at the photograph Mechanized Assault (2003-4, below) and now it is the distance of the photographer from the subject – the infinite sublime as I call it – that upends the punitive intentions of the military and overwhelms their puny vehicles. It’s an earth, spirit and mind thing.

In the viewers recognition of the beauty of this land(e)scape, we acknowledge our own virtue and assert our desire to be free. Free from restrictive control. Free from oppression. Free from war. The military, police “force” and government are and always will be, afraid of the infinite within us…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,540

 

Footnotes

  1. “Development of military doctrine is perhaps the more important of all capability development activities, because it determines how military forces are used in conflicts, the concepts and methods used by the command to employ appropriately military skilled, armed and equipped personnel in achievement of the tangible goals and objectives of the war, campaign, battle, engagement, and action.” (Wikipedia)

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Many thankx to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP 'Bodies of US paratroopers lie near a command post during the battle of An Ninh' 18 September 1965

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP
Bodies of US paratroopers lie near a command post during the battle of An Ninh
18 September 1965

 

 

The paratroopers, of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, were hit by heavy fire from guerrillas that began as soon as the first elements of the unit landed. The dead and wounded were later evacuated to An Khe, where the 101st was based. The battle was one of the first of the war between major units of US forces and the Vietcong.

 

An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is the first comprehensive survey of the work of Vietnamese-American photographer An-My Lê. Featuring photographs from a selection of the artist’s five major bodies of work, the nationally touring exhibition considers the celebrated photographer’s nearly 25-year career exploring the edges of war and recording these landscapes of conflict in beautiful, classically composed photographs.

Born in Saigon in the midst of the Vietnam War, Lê was evacuated with her family by the U.S. military. She has spent decades considering the complexity of American history and conflict, from war reenactments to the removal of Confederate monuments. This timely exhibition explores politically-charged topics through Lê’s subtle, evocative images that avoid the sensationalism often seen in newspapers and movies. Sweeping views that emphasise the size and breadth of the theatre of war display the artist’s technical strengths in the classical landscape tradition, which she uses to compose beautiful images that draw the viewer into deeper consideration of complex themes of history and power.

 

 

” …as a photographer, I’m interested in looking at and representing the real world, and interpreting it in ways that allow me to learn from it and enlighten the issues I am trying to understand. I feel entirely comfortable using photographs with simple titles and explanatory texts. And I feel comfortable with the fact that some people may interpret a photograph differently from others. My photographs are visually complicated and carry complex messages because of the way I pack the information into the frame and structure the picture. People need to spend time with the work in order to piece together all the information. But of course the reading is subjective. I like that. I like that it could be contradictory, that it could be full of surprises, that it could be confusing. I see a fragile construct between the objective and subjective.

Ultimately, the picture is there to incite someone to think about the issues at stake, rather than say explicitly how I myself feel about the American military. Some of my work could be understood as being supportive of the military. You could look at some pictures and think: wow, those young Americans are so heroic! Or you could see in the same image a reflection of American imperialism: look at the American guy standing there, trying to teach the locals how to do it the American way! There are so many possible interpretations. Sometimes the US military comes in and does help people. For example, after the earthquake in Haiti, the military was able to accomplish what no one else could. It was there with supplies in a matter of hours. But there’s a fine line between coming to help and invading, and it has to do with physical and economic presence and the ways in which Americans occupy the land. So the work is about those tensions.

I think it goes back to my own conflicted perceptions of the US military and what it did to Vietnam. At the end of the war, it was the Americans who could help us escape from the approach of communism. Everyone tried to scale the walls of the American Embassy, not the French Embassy. So it’s about all those conflicted things.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Andrew Maerkle. “Fires on the Plain,” on the ART-iT website 28/07/2015 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021.

 

“Living through the Vietnam War as a child and immigrating to the United States as a teenager, An-My Lê’s life has been indelibly marked by international conflict. For over two decades, her work as a photographer has engaged the unseen facets within the theater of war. With her large-format camera in tow, she has immersed herself in the Appalachian forest with Vietnam War reenactors, and traveled aboard U.S. aircraft carriers around the globe. Lê identifies as a landscape photographer, a perspective that grounds her subtle, impactful images of American interventionism within a larger history of violence.”

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Sara Christoph. “An-My Lê with Sara Christoph,” on the Brooklyn Rail website February 2015 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021.

 

 

 

Photographer An-My Lê: 2012 MacArthur Fellow | MacArthur Foundation | October 2012

Meet An-My Lê and learn about how she came to photography, her work with the U.S. military, and her 19th-century-style camera.

Photographer An-My Lê was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2012. The Fellowship is a $500,000, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more.

 

 

 

An-My Lê: Landscapes of war | July 2018

Find out more about An-My Lê’s series Small Wars (1992-2002), and Lê’s experiences photographing Vietnam war reenactors.

Photographer An-My Lê, who grew up in Saigon during the Vietnam War, describes her series Small Wars (1999-2002) and 29 Palms (2003-2004). She discusses how contemporary landscape photography can be used to present more than just scenery; it can illuminate culture, architecture, and social and political issues that citizens are concerned with today.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain' at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Mekong Delta' 1994

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Mekong Delta
1994
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Viêt Nam (1994-98)

In 1994, Lê returned to her home country for the first time since being evacuated as a teenager in 1975, arriving shortly after relations between the U.S. and Vietnam were normalised. She brought her camera with her, hoping to untangle the reality of her childhood memories from what she had seen over the years in movies and the news. She started the project in her mother’s birthplace, Hanoi, which she had never visited before, and returned to Vietnam three more times, spending about a month there on each trip. Using a large-format camera and shooting from an elevated perspective, Lê portrayed the landscape as a backdrop for human activity – particularly war and conflict – throughout history and into the present. Her series began with images of traditional, rural landscape she recalled from her childhood but eventually evolved into a photographic meditation on the fog of war and its tendency to scramble perceptions. Other images include scenes from urban and modern-day Vietnam unlike anything she had seen represented in the U.S. In this series Lê refined her working methods and began engaging with themes that remain cornerstones of her practice today.

Wall text

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Mekong Delta' 1994

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Mekong Delta
1994
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

This was the first photograph Lê made in Vietnam after almost twenty years away. It reflects her directorial style: Unlike a photojournalist, who strives to record events without intervening, Lê instructed the members of this farming family to stand still and look at the camera. The movement of their livestock and the surrounding foliage in the wind creates blur – perhaps a nod to the quickening pace of modern life in Vietnam.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City' 1995

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City
1995
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Thanh Hoa' 1998

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Thanh Hoa
1998
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Linnaeus Tripe (British, 1822-1902)
Between Chittumputty and Teramboor: Elephant Rock, End View, January-February 1858
1858

 

 

Linnaeus Tripe (British, 1822-1902)

Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902) was a British pioneer of photography, best known for his photographs of India and Burma taken in the 1850s.

Linnaeus Tripe was born in Plymouth Dock (now Devonport), Devon, to Mary (1786-1842) and Cornelius (1785-1860). He was the ninth of twelve children. He joined the East India Company army in 1838, and in 1840, became a lieutenant based in the south of India. He returned to England in 1850, on a leave that was extended due to ill health until 1854. During this time he began to experiment with photography, and joined the Photographic Society of London in 1853. He returned to Bangalore, India, as a captain in June 1854. In December of that year he made his first photographs of India. In February of the following year he took part in the Madras Exhibition of Raw Products, Arts, and Manufactures of Southern India, displaying 68 photographs of previously unphotographed temples. The jury declared these photographs the “Best series of photographic views on paper.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hippolyte Arnoux (French, (active c. 1860 - c. 1890) and Emile Gsell (French, 1838-1879) 'Pagoda des Supplices, Hanoi' 1880

 

Hippolyte Arnoux (French, (active c. 1860 – c. 1890) and Emile Gsell (French, 1838-1879)
Pagoda des Supplices, Hanoi
1880
From “The trip from Egypt to Indochina” (Voyage de l’ Egypte à l’ Indochine)

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, But Thap' 1996

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, But Thap
1996
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“In graduate school, I was nudged to draw from my personal experience. This was in 1992, before Bill Clinton lifted the economic embargo against Vietnam, so it was not easy to travel there. Having escaped Vietnam in 1975 without our family albums, I pored through the photography catalogs in the libraries at Yale for references to Vietnam. I was shocked to find devastating images of war, and also patronising ethnographic photographs taken by European photographers during the colonial period, but nothing else. When I was finally able to travel there a few years later, I made a series of black-and-white photographs, mostly landscapes, that were intended to fill in the gaps that existed between the war documentation and the ethnographic archive.”

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An-My Lê, 2021. Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen, The New York Review of Books

 

“For me, the landscape has always been the constant in my work. I work with scale as a way to give context to human endeavours, military endeavours, and the history of power. In the end, Vietnam has endured many battles and gone through so many changes. The Chinese invasion, the Japanese occupation, the colonialism of the French, the Indochina War, the Americans – the constancy was always the landscape. And people change, cultures change over time, but there is something about the land. Even as our world modernises, there is a certain consistency, a certain authenticity.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Sara Christoph. “An-My Lê with Sara Christoph,” on the Brooklyn Rail website February 2015 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021.

 

“When I first made the pictures in Vietnam, I was not ready to deal with the war. Being able to go back to Vietnam was a way to reconnect with a homeland, or with the idea of what a homeland is and with the idea of going home. When you live in exile, things like smells and memories and stories from childhood all take on such importance. So, this was an opportunity to reconnect with the real thing, and to be confronted with contemporary Vietnam. It’s not the way it was twenty years ago, or the way it’s described in folktales my grandmother and mother used to tell me, or even in stories from my mother’s own childhood in the North. So, I really looked for things that suggested a certain way of life – agrarian life – things that connect you to the land. Unfortunately, pictures don’t smell; but if I could do that, they would be about smells as well.”

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An-My Lê quoted in “Vietnam: An-My Lê,” on the Art21 website Nd [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Son Tay' 1998

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Son Tay
1998
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“People always say that it is so bizarre how these men reenact the Vietnam War, and go to so much trouble to do so! But then, you think about Steven Spielberg or even Kathryn Bigelow, and in a way, their work is a kind of reenactment pushed to the extreme. And no one has any issues with that! Just because it is a movie and there are millions of dollars involved, it is entertainment. And then you look to the military. All the training, practice drills, etc. They use the same language of reenactment. ‘Today, our scenario is…'”

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An-My Lê, 2015

Read the poem “A Brief History of Reënactment” by Vietnamese-American poet Hai-Dang Phan that was inspired by Lê’s series ‘Small Wars’.

 

“I feared for my safety on my first trip to Virginia, because I didn’t know the reenactors or their motivations. They called themselves ‘living historians.’ They grew up collecting badges and they knew everything about war histories, and this was a way for them to live out some of these fantasies. […]

It was so interesting to see the way who played what was economically replicated in real life. The kids who had more money would play the Americans because the American gear was more expensive, and they also tended to be less fit. They were always up on the hill sleeping on air mattresses and eating C-rations. And then us, the North Vietnamese Army or Viet Cong, we were down sleeping on the ground or in hammocks. We were always hiking up and ambushing them.”

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An-My Lê, 2019 conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen in the catalogue for “An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain.”

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Viet Cong Camp' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Viet Cong Camp
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Small Wars (1999-2002)

While researching the Vietnam War for her work, Lê discovered small groups of Vietnam War reenactors based in Virginia and North Carolina who were primarily civilians with little or no military experience. The organisers agreed to let her photograph if she also participated, and over the course of three summers she attended and photographed four or five reenactments, which became her series Small Wars. Even though Lê is from South Vietnam and had little firsthand knowledge of the North, she was often enlisted to play the role of North Vietnamese soldier or Viet Cong rebel. The other reenactors appreciated the “authenticity” she brought to the scenes, in part because it made their own experience feel more realistic. Lê’s participation became a way for her to understand personal histories and associations the reenactors brought with them to their performances, and it helped her better imagine what it might have been like for the North Vietnamese soldiers who fought in the war. Matching the reenactors’ commitment to authenticity, and underscoring her control of the scenes occurring in front of her camera, Lê consulted a military expert to restage certain moments and ensure that every detail, from the uniforms to the equipment, was as historically accurate as possible.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Stars and Stripes' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Stars and Stripes
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Sniper I' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Sniper I
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP ''Life' magazine photographer Larry Burrows (far left) struggles through elephant grass and the rotor wash of an American evacuation helicopter as he helps GIs carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher from the jungle to the chopper in Mimot, Cambodia' 4 May 1970

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP
‘Life’ magazine photographer Larry Burrows (far left) struggles through elephant grass and the rotor wash of an American evacuation helicopter as he helps GIs carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher from the jungle to the chopper in Mimot, Cambodia
4 May 1970

 

 

Life magazine photographer Larry Burrows (far left) struggles through elephant grass and the rotor wash of an American evacuation helicopter as he helps GIs carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher from the jungle to the chopper in Mimot, Cambodia on 4 May 1970. The evacuation came during the US incursion into Cambodia. Burrows was killed on 10 February 1971, along with the photographer who took this picture, Henri Huet, and two other photojournalists – Kent Potter of UPI and Keisaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek – when their helicopter was shot down over Laos.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Ambush I' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Ambush I
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Rescue' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Rescue
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

 

The Vietnam War reenactors Lê photographed were committed to creating “authentic” scenarios. This meant that every element, from their uniforms to their weapons and even their encampments, was meticulously researched and either purchased from approved sources or carefully fabricated. To further heighten the realism of their scenes, the reenactors gained access to Fort Story, a Joint Expeditionary Base in Virginia Beach that has been used as a training site for amphibious combat exercises since the end of World War II. A Vietnam-era jet that is grounded there became the site of a crash reenactment.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Colonel Greenwood' 2003-2004

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Colonel Greenwood
2003-2004
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago, Gift of Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, NM
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

 

“I came to understand a lot about life in the military through conversations with the marines. At that point, I had never quite understood why someone would join the military. I thought people join because they want to fight, because they want to shoot guns, because they want to combat evil forces. But I realised that some join for economic reasons: just to get a job. Some want to travel. Some see it as a way to get out of difficult circumstances: Some were orphans who grew up in tough foster homes and felt the military gave them an opportunity to escape. So I gradually came to understand the human component, the redemptive aspect of this complicated equation.”

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An-My Lê in Andrew Maerkle. “Fires on the Plain,” on the ART-iT website 28/07/2015 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021.

 

 

From War Reenactors to the Removal of Confederate Monuments, An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain Spotlights Politically Charged Work that Resonates Today

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) will present the first comprehensive survey of the work of Vietnamese-American photographer An-My Lê (b. 1960), on view April 18 through August 8, 2021. Featuring photographs from a selection of the artist’s five major bodies of work, the nationally touring An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain draws connections across Lê’s career and provides unprecedented insight into her subtle, evocative images that draw on the classical landscape tradition to explore the complexity of American history and conflict.

Celebrated photographer Lê has spent nearly 25 years exploring the edges of war and recording these landscapes of conflict in beautiful, classically composed photographs. Born in Saigon in the midst of the Vietnam War, Lê vividly remembers the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up in a war zone. She and her family were eventually evacuated by the U.S. military in 1975. It would take another 20 years for Lê to return to her homeland, this time with a large-format camera in tow.

“We are proud to bring An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain to our North Texas community,” said Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director. “Lê’s photographs bring history into conversation with the present, confronting head-on, complicated questions that remain relevant today. It feels especially important that we are spotlighting her work during our anniversary year, as it draws on the traditions reflected in our historical photography collection and underlines our 60-year commitment to exhibiting the best American photographers at the Carter.”

Lê follows in the tradition of nineteenth-century photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan and Mathew Brady, whose images of the Civil War brought the realities of combat to everyday Americans. Crafting sweeping views that emphasise the size and breadth of the theatre of war, Lê captures the complexity of conflict and the full scope of military life, avoiding the sensationalism often seen in newspapers and movies. On Contested Terrain highlights the artist’s technical strengths, used to compose beautiful images that draw the viewer into deeper consideration of complex themes of history and power.

The exhibition presents selections from five of Lê’s major series:

 

Viêt Nam (1994-98)

Almost 20 years after her family was evacuated, Lê returned to Vietnam with her large-format camera. The resulting series is a meditation on her homeland, addressing both her memories of it and the country’s reality decades later. It depicts the landscape as a backdrop for human history, a theme Lê would return to again and again.

 

Small Wars (1999-2002)

Back in the United States, Lê photographed Vietnam War reenactors in North Carolina and Virginia, often participating as a North Vietnamese soldier or Viet Cong rebel. Working with the reenactors, many of whom had not fought in the war, to achieve “authenticity” whenever possible, Lê made images that explore the legacy and mythology of the Vietnam War for contemporary Americans.

 

29 Palms (2003-04)

Unable to secure credentials to embed on the front lines of the Iraq War, Lê traveled to a California military base to photograph troops training in a landscape similar to the environment in which they would soon be deployed. In addition to the desert training exercises, Lê photographed the debriefings and downtime that filled the soldiers’ days.

 

Events Ashore (2005-14)

This series, the artist’s first foray into colour photography, was created over nine years that Lê spent photographing the crews of U.S. naval vessels around the world. An extensive exploration of the global reach of the American military, Events Ashore includes scenes of everyday life on an aircraft carrier alongside diplomatic, humanitarian, military, and political activities.

 

Silent General (2015-ongoing)

In her current series, Lê grapples with the legacy of America’s Civil War and responds to the complexities of the current socio-political moment. Her poetic photographs of polarised landscapes confront issues of our time that are rooted in our history, from the fate of Confederate monuments to immigration debates around agricultural labourers.

 

“An-My Lê has spent decades investigating conflicted terrains, both physical and metaphorical” stated Kristen Gaylord, Assistant Curator of Photographs. “Her photographs consider questions that we are all thinking about now: What does it mean to be an American citizen? How does our country’s history shape our contemporary lives? What should be the role of the U.S. in the world? These questions are especially salient for the City of Fort Worth, which includes a major defence contractor, the first Joint Reserve Base in the country, and residents and refugees from around the world, including Vietnam, Somalia, Guatemala, and Afghanistan. The generosity and incisiveness of Lê’s vision are a model for how we can navigate these complexities together.”

An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is organised by Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Major support for this exhibition is provided by Lannan Foundation and the William Talbott Hillman Foundation. Additional support is generously provided by the Virginia Kaufman Fund, the Henry John Simonds Foundation, the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Jennifer and Karl Salatka, and the Virginia S. Warner Foundation. Generous support for the exhibition catalogue has been provided by Marian Goodman Gallery. The exhibition debuted at Carnegie Museum of Art in March 2020 and is on view there through January 18, 2021. Following the presentation at the Carter, the exhibition will travel to the Milwaukee Art Museum in fall 2021. An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is included in the museum’s free admission. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring many images never-before-published.

 

About An-My Lê

An-My Lê was born in Saigon in 1960. She and her family fled Vietnam in 1975, living for a short period of time in Paris, France, before settling in the United States as a political refugee. Lê received her BAS (1981) and MS (1985) degrees in biology from Stanford University and an MFA from Yale University in 1993. While Lê is represented in many major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Dallas Museum of Art – An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is the first survey of her work in an American museum. Currently, a professor of photography at Bard, Lê has received many awards, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellow (2012), the Tiffany Comfort Foundation Fellowship (2010), the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program Award (2007), and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1997). Her work has been exhibited at museums and galleries across the world, including the Baltimore Museum of Art; Dia Beacon, Beacon, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; MoMA PS1, New York; and more, and her photography was featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial.

Press release from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Night Operations VII' 2003-2004

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Night Operations VII
2003-2004
From the series 29 Palms (2003-2004)
Gelatin silver print, 2018
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago
© An-My Lê

 

 

“Twentynine Palms was the first extended period of time I spent in an unpopulated landscape. That was where I first started to think about this idea of the sublime. You see this extraordinary, open land, and you understand how insignificant we are. The most powerful experience I had happened during a night exercise in the middle of the desert. It was completely dark. We were at least a two-hour drive from the camp, and then the whole sky lit up. It was the most extraordinary fireworks I have ever seen – 20 minutes of jets dropping bombs, howitzers firing, and tracers in the air. […] You could feel the tremors in your heart. It was a rush of life power, but at the same time, it was devastating. The kind of destruction that this exercise entails is a destruction that is all our own doing.”

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An-My Lê, 2015

 

 

29 Palms (2003-04)

For her series 29 Palms, Lê turned to real soldiers acting out possible scenarios for a war that was still developing. Unable to secure credentials to embed on the front lines of the Iraq War (2003-2011), she instead sought access to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, also known as Twentynine Palms, outside Joshua Tree National Park in California – a base that was also used by Marines preparing for the Vietnam War decades earlier. Military command had determined that the arid, mountainous landscape was a good approximation to parts of Afghanistan and Iraq, where these soldiers would eventually de deployed. At Twentynine Palms, Lê focused her camera on field exercises, from special ops tactical training to sweeping views of tanks rolling across the desert. Some of the photographs are indistinguishable from images of actual war, while in others the artificiality of the scenario is obvious. She also captured moments that don’t appear in military promotional materials: troops whose attention is drifting during debriefings, huddled together to avoid the hot sun, and smoking and chatting during downtime.

At Twentynine Palms, entire buildings were given over to re-creations of Iraqi towns for security and stabilisation exercises, and cadets were conscripted to role play as Iraqi police. Three images in this gallery show the exercises as well as the facilities, which have been sprayed with anti-USA and pro-Saddam graffiti meant to impart a sense of realism. Simplistic phrases like “Good Saddam” and “Down USA” could never encapsulate an Iraqi’s complicated feelings about the war. Those sentiments, coupled with fake Arabic graffiti, leave a viewer wondering how well the military is preparing these troops who are about to be dropped into a completely foreign country on the other side of the globe.

 

 

 

An-My Lê: “29 Palms” | Art21 “Extended Play” | February 2011

“I just wanted to approach the idea of war in a more complicated and more challenging way” says artist An-My Lê, whose photographic series and film “29 Palms” (2003-04) explore the training exercises and desert landscape near Joshua Tree National Park as a staging ground for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An-My Lê’s photographs and films examine the impact, consequences, and representation of war, framing a tension between the natural landscape and its violent transformation into battlefields. Suspended between the formal traditions of documentary and staged photography, Lê’s work explores the disjunction between wars as historical events and the ubiquitous representation of war in contemporary entertainment, politics, and collective consciousness.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Security and Stabilization Operations, Iraqi Police' 2003-2004

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Security and Stabilization Operations, Iraqi Police
2003-2004
From the series 29 Palms (2003-2004)
Gelatin silver print, 2018
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, Museum Purchase
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Security and Stabilization Operations, Graffiti' 2003-4

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Security and Stabilization Operations, Graffiti
2003-4
From the series 29 Palms (2003-2004)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

MSGT Howard J. Farrell, US Marine Corps. 'T-54s, T-55s, Type 59s or Type 69s at Diwaniyah, Iraq' 16 April 2003

 

MSGT Howard J. Farrell, US Marine Corps
T-54s, T-55s, Type 59s or Type 69s at Diwaniyah, Iraq
16 April 2003
Public domain

 

 

The destroyed remains of Iraqi T-55 Main Battle Tanks (MBT) litter an Iraqi military complex West of Diwaniyah, near Al Qadisiyah, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Visible on the picture are also two ARVs (the upper one is a Chinese-made Type 653 while the lower one is a Polish-made WZT-2). The tank in the bottom of the picture is a Type 69 as evidenced by the fender-mounted headlights.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Mechanized Assault' 2003-4

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Mechanized Assault
2003-4
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“The kind of work that I make is not the standard political work. It’s not agitprop. You would think, because I’ve seen so much devastation and lived through a war, that I should make something that’s outwardly antiwar. But I am not categorically against war. I was more interested in drawing people into my work, to think about the issues that envelop war – representations of war, landscape and terrain in war. When I’m working with the military, I still think of myself as a landscape photographer. My main goal is to try to photograph landscape in such a way that it suggests a universal history, a personal history, a history of culture.”

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An-My Lê quoted in “War and Aesthetics: An-My Lê,” on the Art21 website Nd [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

“I love the way things are drawn in black and white but it was evident to me Events Ashore needed to be in color. It was at first a technical issue. I found the [black-and-white] palette restrictive. I was frustrated not being able to distinguish colder from warmer gray. [Black and white] is about a removal of the information provided by color, which is interesting in itself. Only the essential is retained, and this forces the imagination to go into overdrive to compensate. As I was exploring this huge global enterprise that is the U.S. Navy, I wanted to describe my experience in details and overwhelm the viewer with information. Bringing color back was crucial.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Jon Feinstein. “An-My Lê: The Landscape of Conflict,” on the Daylight website 10th February 2017 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

Events Ashore (2005-2014)

Lê’s time at Twentynine Palms let to friendships with military personnel that facilitated her next series, titled Events Ashore. She was invited to join a Marine Expeditionary Unit on an aircraft carrier and over the next nine years spent weeks at a time visiting twenty different countries aboard U.S. naval vessels travelling the world, from Antartica to Greenland. Events Ashore was Lê’s first foray into colour photography, made in part because her standard black-and-white film could not capture the subtle differences in the tonalities of ships, sky and water that filled the views from aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, and nuclear-powered submarines.

In this series intimate scenes of life aboard an aircraft carrier are interspersed with coverage of less-known military outreach efforts, like tutoring individuals for an English proficiency exam, and landmark geopolitical moments including the first U.S. naval exchange with Vietnam since the Vietnam War (1955-75). Lê attempts to fathom the full scope fo the navy’s activities around the world. The result is an extensive exploration of the environmental, financial, human, and political costs of military intervention.

 

 

“I [am] interested in many aspects of the military endeavour, from humanitarian missions in Africa and Asia and strategic trainings and engagements in the North Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean to scientific missions in the Arctic and Antarctic. This work is as much about my perspective and personal history as a political refugee from Vietnam as it is about the vast geopolitical forces and conflicts that shape these landscapes. It is also about how the U.S. military is seen around the world, and how it represents our country. A polarising subject in popular imagination, the U.S. military has inspired fear, patriotism, debate, and suspicion. My goal has been to give a visual analog to that complex topic, to address issues of power and fragility. […] My intention is to stir up thought but not dictate a message. It is not a call to action so much as a call for perspective.”

.
An-My Lê, 2014 from the exhibition catalogue

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Earthquake Relief, Marine Corps Weapons Company Beach Landing Site, Haiti' 2010

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Earthquake Relief, Marine Corps Weapons Company Beach Landing Site, Haiti
2010
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Portrait Studio, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf' 2009

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Portrait Studio, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf
2009
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'US Naval Hospital Ship Mercy, Vietnam' 2009

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
US Naval Hospital Ship Mercy, Vietnam
2009
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Lê has said that her ultimate subject in Events Ashore was scale, and the ocean is one of the only environments vast enough to dwarf the massive ships of the U.S. Navy. USNS Mercy is the lead ship of a class of hospital ships that are the third largest ship class in the navy, although in this image it seems small. Hospital ships carry only defensive weapons, and it is a war crime to attack them. Last spring, Mercy was sent to Los Angeles to provide relief to local hospitals dealing with COVID-19 cases. A train engineer deliberately ran a train off the tracks in an attempt to crash into it, saying he was suspicious of Mercy and did not believe “the ship is what they say it’s for.”

Wall text

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Manning the rail, the U.S.S. Tortuga, Java Sea' 2010

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Manning the rail, the U.S.S. Tortuga, Java Sea
2010
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fresh Water Wash-Down of Super Structure, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf' 2009

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fresh Water Wash-Down of Super Structure, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf
2009
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Damage Control Training, USS Nashville, Dakar, Senegal' 2009

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Damage Control Training, USS Nashville, Dakar, Senegal
2009
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Ship Divers, USS New Hampshire, Arctic Seas' 2011

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Ship Divers, USS New Hampshire, Arctic Seas
2011
Inkjet print
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

 

“[Walt] Whitman epitomises the acknowledgment that art offers the most inclusive and accurate method for addressing an experience. Whitman’s work resisted easy categorisation – it was neither journalism nor poetry. It allowed him to explore his curiosity about himself and the world in a way that always inspired complex responses. In a way, a photographer’s independence is what defines their identity as an artist. If your work doesn’t serve a story, document an event, or promote a product, then it must be art. But, in another sense, a photography artist is usually excited by the risk of their work not being considered art at all. When you decide to look at a polarising subject that plenty of non-artists are also working with – like a newsworthy event – then you are begging a question: ‘Are you doing anything better as an artist? Might you be doing something worse?'”

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An-My Lê quoted in Tom Seymour. “An-My Lê: Landscape is not a narrow category – it is a source of surprise,” on The Art Newspaper website 13th August 2020 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

Silent General (2015-ongoing)

Lê’s current project examines the contemporary state of affairs in the united States through the lens of history. It takes its title from Walt Whitman’s tribute to Ulysses S. Grant in Specimen Days (1882), an autobiographical account of Whitman’s time tending to wounded Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War (1861-65), another fractured moment in the countries history. Her arrangement of these photographs in groups, or what she calls “fragments,” is an homage to the literary structure of Specimen Days and a poetic way of sequencing the pictures.

Lê made her first photographs for the series in 2015, when the news was dominated by Donald Trump’s candidacy for president and public controversy over monuments commemorating the Confederacy. Since then, Lê has photographed politically polarised landscapes from Louisiana to New York, California to Texas, and down into Mexico. The images in Silent General address much-debated issues including citizenship, immigration, labour rights, land access, and racism, and often trace them back to their historical roots.

Wall text

 

 

 

Confederate Memorials in Texas

The photographs in this gallery address significant and contested issues facing our country, including the presence of Confederate monuments and markers throughout the United States.

Should these memorials remain, or should they be removed? While some believe that removing them erases history, others think that they were created to assert dominance over Black people.

There are over 150 Confederate memorials in Texas, most of which were created in two eras: first, the 1900 to the mid-1930s, as Jim Crow laws were passed and the Ku Klux Klan resurged; and second, the 1950s and 1960s, during the civil rights movement and coinciding with the centennial of the Civil War.

What, if anything, surprises you about Confederate monuments and markers in Texas?

Information on this map was gathered from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Texas Historical Commission, “The Texas Tribune,” and various private databases.

Wall text

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fragment I: General P. G. T. Beauregard Monument, New Orleans' 2016

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fragment I: General P. G. T. Beauregard Monument, New Orleans
2016
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard was a well-known Confederate general who conveyed racist views about Black people before, during, and immediately after the Civil War. But he was adamantly against the federalist Reconstruction policies of the postwar period and became part of a group that advocated for Black suffrage and equal rights as a way of uniting Southern interests against them. A statue of him as a Confederate general was unveiled at the main entrance of New Orleans’ City Park in 1915. One hundred years later, it was one of four memorials related to the Confederacy that the New Orleans City Council voted to remove, although the removal took over a year and a half.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fragment VI: General Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans' 2017

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fragment VI: General Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans
2017
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“We should start with the paradoxical ideas about photography and truth, journalism, and the issue that a photograph is an evidence of something. In film for example, if you talk about documentary films, or feature films, or fictional films, there is never any issue with which is which, but somehow for photography when people see a photograph, they think it is showing the truth. But we know that all photographs are fictional. This creates a kind of dichotomy, but I think artists such as myself like to take advantage of this misunderstanding. I do straddle that, but my pictures are not photojournalism. They do not attest to anything except perhaps of my interest in the world, and what I bring in terms of my baggage and personal biography to it.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Cleo Roberts. “Complicated Truths: Interview with An-My Lê,” on the ArtAsiaPacific website Feb 24, 2020 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fragment VII: Film Set (Free State of Jones), Firing Lesson, Chicot State Park, Louisiana' 2016

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fragment VII: Film Set (Free State of Jones), Firing Lesson, Chicot State Park, Louisiana
2016
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“Protest is a commitment to clarity, urgency, and spontaneity. The slogans and chants only work if they can be shared and invested with belief. I used to shy away from explicit language, political or otherwise, as a subject for my work because I feared I would neither document nor reveal anything that wasn’t already there or already stated. Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that the language of protest and resistance is not complete without a response… It invites and demands a response. So, with these photographs, I’ve tried to present protest and public address as intimate and integral gestures, within time and place, that hopefully push back at the more predictable images and commentaries we expect.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Fi Churchman. “‘We Will Dance Again’: Photographer An-My Lê on Reconnecting with New York in Lockdown,” on the ArtReview website 23 September 2020 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fragment VII: High School Students Protesting Gun Violence, Washington Square Park, New York' 2018

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fragment VII: High School Students Protesting Gun Violence, Washington Square Park, New York
2018
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'November 5, Sugar Cane Field, Houma, Louisiana' 2016

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
November 5, Sugar Cane Field, Houma, Louisiana
2016
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'November 10, Workers, Venice, Louisiana' 2016

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
November 10, Workers, Venice, Louisiana
2016
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

 

Monsen Photography Lecture: An-My Lê | March 2021

The annual Monsen Photography Lecture brings key makers and thinkers in photographic practice to the Henry Art Gallery. Named after Drs. Elaine & Joseph Monsen, the series is designed to further knowledge about and appreciation for the art of photography.

The Henry welcomed An-My Lê as the 2018 Monsen Photography Lecture speaker. Lê is renowned for creating images that raise questions about the representations and effects of war, and for leveraging photographic techniques to challenge understandings of what is fictional or historical. Her work “Small Wars (Ambush I)”, (1999-2002) was included in the Henry’s exhibition, “The Time. The Place: Contemporary Art from the Collection.”

 

 

Amon Carter Museum of American Art
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21
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 29th October 2016 – 7th May 2017

 

Photography is … a language for asking questions about the world. The Shape of Things imbues this aphorism with a linear taxonomy in its written material (while the installation “occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression”), no matter that each “moment” in the history of photography – historical, modern, contemporary – is never self contained or self sufficient, that each overlaps and informs one another, in a nexus of interweaving threads.

Charles Harry Jones’ Peapods (c. 1900) are as modern as Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Cooling Towers (1973); Margaret Watkins’ Design Angles (1919) are as directorial as Jan Groover’s Untitled (1983) or Charles Harry Jones’ Onions (c. 1900). And so it goes…

The ideation “the shape of things” is rather a bald fundamental statement in relation to how we imagine and encounter the marvellous. No matter the era, the country or the person who makes them; no matter the meanings readable in photographs or their specific use value in a particular context – the photograph is still the footprint of an idea and, as John Berger asks, a trace naturally left by something that has past? That flicker of imagination in the mind’s eye which has no time.

As Sartre says in Being and Nothingness, “Temporality is only a tool of vision.”

Marcus

.
Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

The Shape of Things presents a compact and non-comprehensive history of photography, from its inception to the early twenty-first century, in one hundred images. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the 504 photographs that have entered The Museum of Modern Art’s collection with the support of Robert B. Menschel over the past forty years, including a notable selection of works from his personal collection that were given in 2016 and are being shown here for the first time.

“Photography is less and less a cognitive process, in the traditional sense of the term, or an affirmative one, offering answers, but rather a language for asking questions about the world,” wrote the Italian photographer and critic Luigi Ghirri in 1989. Echoing these words, the exhibition presents the history of the medium in three parts, emphasising the strengths of Menschel’s collection and mirroring his equal interest in historical, modern, and contemporary photography. Each section focuses on a moment in photography’s history and the conceptions of the medium that were dominant then: informational and documentary in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, more formal and subjective in the immediate postwar era, and questioning and self-referential from the 1970s onward. The installation occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression, fuelled by the conviction that works from different periods, rather than being antagonistic, correspond with and enrich each other.

 

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

 

Installation views of The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 – May 7, 2017
© 2016 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

The exhibition The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel presents a compact history of photography, from its inception to the early 21st century, in 100 images. On view from October 29, 2016, through May 7, 2017, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the 504 photographs that have entered The Museum of Modern Art’s collection over the past 40 years with the support of longtime Museum trustee Robert B. Menschel. It includes a notable selection of works from his personal collection that were given in 2016 and are being shown here for the first time. The Shape of Things is organised by Quentin Bajac, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Katerina Stathopoulou, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Borrowing its title from the eponymous work by Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953), the exhibition presents the history of the medium in three parts, emphasising the strengths of Menschel’s collection and mirroring his equal interest in historical, modern, and contemporary photography. Each section focuses on a moment in photography’s history and the conceptions of the medium that were dominant then: informational and documentary in the 19th and early 20th centuries, more formal and subjective in the immediate postwar era, and questioning and self-referential from the 1970s onward. The installation occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression, fuelled by the conviction that works from different periods, rather than being antagonistic, correspond with and enrich each other.

 

Historical

From 1840 to 1900, in photography’s infancy as a medium, artists principally sought to depict truthful representations of their surrounding environments. This primal stage is distinguished by a debate on the artistic-versus-scientific nature of the invention. Photographers engaged with the aesthetic and technical qualities of the medium, experimenting with tone, texture, and printing processes. The exhibition begins with seminal photographs such as William Henry Talbot Fox’s (British, 1800-1877) 1843 picture Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris, taken from the windows of the Hôtel de Douvres. Also on view is the astronomer Jules Janssen’s (French, 1824-1907) masterpiece L’Atlas de photographies solaires (Atlas of solar photographs), published in 1903. Summing up a quarter-century of daily photography at Janssen’s observatory in Meudon, France, the volume on view contains 30 images of the photosphere, demonstrating photography’s instrumental role in advancing the study of science. Other artists included in this section are Louis-August and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (Bisson brothers), Eugène Cuvelier, Roger Fenton, Hugh W. Diamond, Charles Marville, and Henri Le Secq.

 

Modern

As photographers grappled with war and its aftermath, they began to turn their focus away from documenting the world around them and toward capturing their own personal experiences in a more formal, subjective way. A selection of works from 1940 to 1960 explores this theme, including works by two artists whose images Menschel collected extensively: Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) and Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991). A selection from Callahan’s quintessential photographs of urban environments – from Chicago and New York to Aix-en Provence and Cuzco, Peru – double exposures of city views, and portraits of his wife Eleanor and daughter Barbara, underscore the breadth of his oeuvre. In the summer of 1951, while teaching alongside Callahan at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Siskind began the series of pictures of the surfaces of walls for which he is best known. One of the early works in the series on view, North Carolina 30 (1951), shows the bare legs of a woman framed by the words “IN” and”AND” amid layers of peeling layers of posters. In their planarity and graphic quality, these pictures also have a kinship with paintings by the Abstract Expressionists, alongside whom Siskind began exhibiting in the late 1940s. Other artists in this section include Berenice Abbott, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, John Gossage, André Kertész, Clarence John Laughlin, and Dora Maar.

 

Contemporary

From the 1970s onward, photographers began working in what A. D. Coleman defined as “The Directorial Mode,” wherein the photographer consciously creates events for the sole purpose of making images. John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) took his own body, naked and with the head invisible, as the subject of his work – both carrying on and contradicting the tradition of the self-portrait centered on the face – as seen in Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above) (1984). Joan Fontcuberta’s (Spanish, b. 1955) series Herbarium appears at first glance to be a collection of botanical studies, depicting plants with new and distinctive contours and rigorously scientific names. However, as revealed by his fictional character Dr. Hortensio Verdeprado (“green pasture” in Spanish), the “plants” are actually carefully composed by the photographer using scrap picked up in industrial areas around Barcelona. Made of bits of paper and plastic, small animal bones, and other detritus, these forms are not only non-vegetal – there is almost nothing natural about them at all. Fontcuberta is interested in the way data assumes meaning through its presentation and in the acceptance of the photographic image as evidence of truth. Other artists in this section include Jan Groover, David Levinthal, An-My Lê, Michael Spano, JoAnn Verburg, and William Wegman.

Press release from the Museum of Modern Art

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869) 'Greek Hero' c. 1857

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
Greek Hero
c. 1857
Salted-paper print from a wet-collodion glass negative
13 7/16 × 10 3/16″ (34.2 × 25.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

Hugh W. Diamond (British, 1809-1886) 'Untitled' c. 1852-55

 

Hugh W. Diamond (British, 1809-1886)
Untitled
c. 1852-55
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
6 1/2 x 5 5/16″ (16.6 x 13.5 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris' May 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris
May 1843
Salted paper print
6 11/16 × 6 3/4″ (17 × 17.2 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Pont Neuf' 1870s

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Pont Neuf
1870s
Albumen silver print
14 1/8 x 8 1/4″ (36 x 23.5 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Rue des Prêtres-Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois' c. 1866

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Rue des Prêtres-Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois
c. 1866
Albumen silver print
11 13/16 × 10 1/2″ (30 × 26.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Rue du Cygne' c. 1865

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Rue du Cygne
c. 1865
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
11 3/4 x 10 9/16″ (29.9 x 26.9 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Terminal' 1893

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Terminal
1893
Photogravure mounted to board
10 × 13 3/16″ (25.4 × 33.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Truthful representations, 1840-1930

“One advantage of the discovery of the Photographic Art will be, that it will enable us to introduce into our pictures a multitude of minute details which add to the truth and reality of the representation, but which no artist would take the trouble to copy faithfully from nature.

Contenting himself with a general effect, he would probably deem it beneath his genius to copy every accident of light and shade; nor could he do so indeed, without a disproportionate expenditure of time and trouble, which might be otherwise much better employed.

Nevertheless, it is well to have the means at our disposal of introducing these minutiae without any additional trouble, for they will sometimes be found to give an air of variety beyond expectation to the scene represented.”

William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 1844-46

 

“I was interested in a straightforward 19th-century way of photographing an object. To photograph things frontally creates the strongest presence and you can eliminate the possibilities of being too obviously subjective. If you photograph an octopus, you have to work out which approach will show the most typical character of the animal. But first you have to learn about the octopus. Does it have six legs or eight? You have to be able to understand the subject visually, through its visual appearance. You need clarity and not sentimentality.”

Hilla Becher, in “The Music of the Blast Furnaces: Bernhard and Hilla Becher in Conversation with James Lingwood,” Art Press, no. 209 (1996)

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Peapods' c. 1900

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Peapods
c. 1900
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
6 5/16 x 8 1/4″ (16 x 20.9 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Cooling Towers' 1973

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers
1973
Gelatin silver prints
Each 15 3/4 × 11 13/16″ (40 × 30 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Estate Bernd and Hilla Becher

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'George Washington Bridge, Riverside Drive and West 179th Street, Manhattan' January 17, 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Washington Bridge, Riverside Drive and West 179th Street, Manhattan
January 17, 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 9/16 x 7 5/8″ (24.3 x 19.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Gunsmith, 6 Centre Market Place, Manhattan' February 4, 1937

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Gunsmith, 6 Centre Market Place, Manhattan
February 4, 1937
Gelatin silver print 9 5/8 x 7 9/16″ (24.4 x 19.1 cm)
Gift of the Robert and Joyce Menschel Foundation

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Hannover Mine 1/2/5, Bochum-Hordel, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1973

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Hannover Mine 1/2/5, Bochum-Hordel, Ruhr Region, Germany
1973
Gelatin silver print
18 7/16 x 22 11/16″ (46.9 x 57.6 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1999

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany
1999
Gelatin silver print
19 5/16 x 24″ (49.1 x 60.9 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Louis-Auguste Bisson (French, 1814-1876) 'Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (detail of facade)' c. 1853

 

Louis-Auguste Bisson (French, 1814-1876)
Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (detail of facade)
c. 1853
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
14 7/16 x 17 13/16″ (36.6 x 45.3 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985) 'Rails' c. 1927

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985)
Rails
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
15 7/16 x 10 3/8″ (39.2 x 26.3 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985) 'Le Metal Inspirateur d'Art (Metal Inspiration of Art)' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985)
Le Metal Inspirateur d’Art (Metal Inspiration of Art)
1930
Gelatin silver print
6 5/8 x 8 7/16″ (16.8 x 21.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Personal experiences, 1940-1960

“As photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs. Move on objects with your eye straight on, to the left, around on the right. Watch them grow large as you approach, group and regroup themselves as you shift your position. Relationships gradually emerge, and sometimes assert themselves with finality. And that’s your picture.

What I have just described is an emotional experience. It is utterly personal: no one else can ever see quite what you have seen, and the picture that emerges is unique, never made and never to be repeated. The picture – and this is fundamental – has the unity of an organism. Its elements were not put together, with whatever skill or taste or ingenuity. It came into being as an instant act of sight.”

Aaron Siskind, “The Drama of Objects,” Minicam Photography 8, no. 9 (1945)

 

“The business of making a photograph may be said in simple terms to consist of three elements: the objective world (whose permanent condition is change and disorder), the sheet of paper on which the picture will be realized, and the experience which brings them together. First, and emphatically, I accept the flat plane of the picture surface as the primary frame of reference of the picture. The experience itself may be described as one of total absorption in the object. But the object serves only a personal need and the requirements of the picture. Thus rocks are sculptured forms; a section of common decorated ironwork, springing rhythmic shapes; fragments of paper sticking to a wall, a conversation piece. And these forms, totems, masks, figures, shapes, images must finally take their place in the tonal field of the picture and strictly conform to their space environment. The object has entered the picture in a sense; it has been photographed directly. But it is often unrecognizable; for it has been removed from its usual context, disassociated from its customary neighbours and forced into new relationships.”

Aaron Siskind, “Credo,” Spectrum 6, no. 2 (1956)

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria. 1899-1968) 'The Gay Deceiver' c. 1939

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria. 1899-1968)
The Gay Deceiver
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
13 x 10 1/4″ (33 x 26 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' 1951

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1951
Dye transfer print
10 5/16 x 15 11/16″ (26.2 x 39.9 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Clarence John Laughlin (American, 1905-1985) 'Spectre of Coca-Cola' 1962

 

Clarence John Laughlin (American, 1905-1985)
Spectre of Coca-Cola
1962
Gelatin silver print, printed 1981
13 1/4 x 10 3/8″ (33.6 x 26.4 cm)
Robert B. Menschel Fund

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Siena' 1968

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Siena
1968
Gelatin silver print
9 × 8 7/8″ (22.9 × 22.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' c. 1952

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
c. 1952
Dye transfer print
8 3/4 × 13 7/16″ (22.3 × 34.1 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' c. 1949

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
c. 1949
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 9/16″ (19.5 x 24.3 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago' 1953

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago
1953
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 11/16″ (19.5 x 24.6 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Providence' 1974

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Providence
1974
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 × 6 7/16″ (16.6 × 16.3 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894-1985) 'New York' August 10, 1969

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894-1985)
New York
August 10, 1969
Gelatin silver print
13 11/16 x 9 3/4″ (34.7 x 24.7 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Directorial modes, 1970s and beyond

“Here the photographer consciously and intentionally creates events for the express purpose of making images thereof. This may be achieved by intervening in ongoing ‘real’ events or by staging tableaux – in either case, by causing something to take place which would not have occurred had the photographer not made it happen.

Here the authenticity of the original event is not an issue, nor the photographer’s fidelity to it, and the viewer would be expected to raise those questions only ironically. Such images use photography’s overt veracity by evoking it for events and relationships generated by the photographer’s deliberate structuring of what takes place in front of the lens as well as of the resulting image. There is an inherent ambiguity at work in such images, for even though what they purport to describe as ‘slices of life’ would not have occurred except for the photographer’s instigation, nonetheless those events (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) did actually take place, as the photographs demonstrate.

… This mode I would define as the directorial.”

A. D. Coleman, “The Directorial Mode: Notes Towards a Definition,” Artforum 15, no. 1 (1976)

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Chicago 30' 1949

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Chicago 30
1949
Gelatin silver print
14 x 17 13/16″ (35.6 x 45.3 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'North Carolina 30' 1951

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
North Carolina 30
1951
Gelatin silver print
13 1/16 × 9 11/16″ (33.2 × 24.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born 1934) 'Glenwood Springs, Colorado' 1981

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born 1934)
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
1981
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 12 15/16″ (21.9 x 32.8 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' 1983

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 x 13 1/2″ (25.9 x 34.3 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884-1969) 'Design Angles' 1919

 

Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884-1969)
Design Angles
1919
Gelatin silver print
8 5/16 x 6 3/8″ (21.1 x 16.2 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Onions' c. 1900

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Onions
c. 1900
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
5 7/8 x 8 1/4″ (15 x 21cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Jalapa 30 (Homage to Franz Kline)' 1973

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Jalapa 30 (Homage to Franz Kline)
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 9 15/16″ (24.1 x 23.6 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Jalapa 38 (Homage to Franz Kline)' 1973

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Jalapa 38 (Homage to Franz Kline)
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 8 15/16″ (24.1 x 22.8 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Lima 89 (Homage to Franz Klein)' 1975

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Lima 89 (Homage to Franz Klein)
1975
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 9 5/8″ (25.9 × 24.4 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

John Gossage (American, born 1946) 'Monumentenbricke' 1982

 

John Gossage (American, born 1946)
Monumentenbricke
1982
Gelatin silver print
12 3/16 x 9 11/16″ (30.9 x 24.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Val Telberg (American, born Russia. 1910-1995) 'Exhibition of the Witch' c. 1948

 

Val Telberg (American, born Russia. 1910-1995)
Exhibition of the Witch
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
10 15/16 × 13 3/4″ (27.8 × 35 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Estate of Val Telberg

 

Frederick Sommer (American, born Italy. 1905-1999) 'I Adore You' 1947

 

Frederick Sommer (American, born Italy. 1905-1999)
I Adore You
1947
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 × 9 1/2″ (19.2 × 24.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above)' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above)
1984
Gelatin silver print
19 13/16 × 15″ (50.4 × 38.1 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955) 'Giliandria Escoliforcia' 1983

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955)
Giliandria Escoliforcia
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 8 1/2″ (26.8 x 21.5 cm)
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955) 'Mullerpolis Plunfis' 1983

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955)
Mullerpolis Plunfis
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 8 1/2″ (26.8 x 21.5 cm)
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960) '29 Palms: Mortar Impact' 2003-04

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960)
29 Palms: Mortar Impact
2003-04
Gelatin silver print
26 1/2 × 38 1/16″ (67.3 × 96.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert B. Menschel Fund
© 2016 An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960) '29 Palms: Infantry Platoon (Machine Gunners)' 2003-04

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960)
29 Palms: Infantry Platoon (Machine Gunners)
2003-04
Gelatin silver print
26 1/2 × 38 1/16″ (67.3 × 96.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert B. Menschel Fund
© 2016 An-My Lê

 

David Levinthal and Garry Trudeau. 'Hitler Moves East' 1977

 

David Levinthal (American, born 1949)
Untitled from the series Hitler Moves East
1975
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 13 7/16″ (26.8 x 34.1 cm)
The Fellows of Photography Fund and Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943) 'Contemplating the Bust of Man Ray from the portfolio Man Ray' 1976

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943)
Contemplating the Bust of Man Ray from the portfolio Man Ray
1976
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 × 6 7/8″ (18.5 × 17.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Michael Spano (American, born 1949) 'Photogram-Michael Spano' 1983

 

Michael Spano (American, born 1949)
Photogram-Michael Spano
1983
Gelatin silver print
57 7/8 x 23 15/16″ (145.2 x 60.8 cm) (irregular)
Robert B. Menschel Fund

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953) 'The Shape of Things' 1993

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953)
The Shape of Things
1993
Gelatin silver prints
a) 26 7/8 x 26 15/16″ (68.2 x 68.4 cm) b) 26 15/16 x 26 7/8″ (68.5 x 68.3 cm)
Gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

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11
Feb
15

Exhibition: ‘Conflict, Time, Photography’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 26th November 2014 – 15th March 2015

The Eyal Ofer Galleries

Artists: Jules Andrieu, Pierre Antony-Thouret, Nobuyoshi Araki, George Barnard, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Luc Delahaye, Ken Domon, Roger Fenton, Ernst Friedrich, Jim Goldberg, Toshio Fukada, Kenji Ishiguro, Kikuji Kawada, An-My Lê, Jerzy Lewczyński, Emeric Lhuisset, Agata Madejska, Diana Matar, Eiichi Matsumoto, Chloe Dewe Mathews, Don McCullin, Susan Meiselas, Kenzo Nakajima, Simon Norfolk, João Penalva, Richard Peter, Walid Raad, Jo Ratcliffe, Sophie Ristelhueber, Julian Rosefeldt, Hrair Sarkissian, Michael Schmidt, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, Indre Šerpytyte, Stephen Shore, Harry Shunk and János Kender, Taryn Simon, Shomei Tomatsu, Hiromi Tsuchida, Marc Vaux, Paul Virilio, Nick Waplington, Jane and Louise Wilson, and Sasaki Yuichiro.

Curators: Simon Baker, Curator Photography and International Art, Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, and Professor David Alan Mellor, University of Sussex

 

 

Roger Fenton. 'The Valley of the Shadow of Death' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
1855

 

 

Another fascinating exhibition. The concept, that of vanishing time, a vanquishing of time – inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five and the Japanese photographer Kikuji Kawada’s 1965 photobook The Map – is simply inspired. Although the images are not war photography per se, they are about the lasting psychological effects of war imaged on a variable time scale.

While the images allow increasing passages of time between events and the photographs that reflect on them – “made moments after the events they depict, then those made days after, then months, years and so on” – there settles in the pit of the stomach some unremitting melancholy, some unholy dread as to the brutal facticity and inhumanness of war. The work which “pictures” the memory of the events that took place, like a visual ode of remembrance, are made all the more powerful for their transcendence – of time, of death and the immediate detritus of war.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“… taking its cue from Vonnegut, ‘Conflict, Time, Photography’ is arranged differently, following instead the increasing passages of time between events and the photographs that reflect on them. There are groups of works made moments after the events they depict, then those made days after, then months, years and so on – 10, 20, 50, right up to 100 years later.”

.
Simon Baker

 

 

Shomei Tomatsu 'Atomic Bomb Damage - Wristwatch Stopped at 11-02, August 9. 1945' (1961)

 

Shomei Tomatsu (Japanese, 1930-2012)
Atomic Bomb Damage – Wristwatch Stopped at 11.02, August 9, 1945, Nagasaki, 1961
1961
Gelatin silver print on paper
253 x 251mm
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo

 

Shomei Tomatsu. 'Steel Helmet with Skull Bone Fused by Atomic Bomb, Nagasaki, 1963'

 

Shomei Tomatsu (Japanese, 1930-2012)
Steel Helmet with Skull Bone Fused by Atomic Bomb, Nagasaki, 1963
1963
Gelatin silver print on paper
226 x 303mm
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo

 

Shomei Tomatsu. 'Melted bottle' Nagasaki, 1961

 

Shomei Tomatsu (Japanese, 1930-2012)
Melted bottle
Nagasaki, 1961
from the series Nagasaki 11:02
Silver Gelatin print
20 x 21cm
© Shomei Tomatsu

 

 

“From the seconds after a bomb is detonated to a former scene of battle years after a war has ended, this moving exhibition focuses on the passing of time, tracing a diverse and poignant journey through over 150 years of conflict around the world, since the invention of photography.

In an innovative move, the works are ordered according to how long after the event they were created from moments, days and weeks to decades later. Photographs taken seven months after the fire bombing of Dresden are shown alongside those taken seven months after the end of the First Gulf War. Images made in Vietnam 25 years after the fall of Saigon are shown alongside those made in Nakasaki 25 years after the atomic bomb. The result is the chance to make never-before-made connections while viewing the legacy of war as artists and photographers have captured it in retrospect…

The exhibition is staged to coincide with the 2014 centenary and concludes with new and recent projects by British, German, Polish and Syrian photographers which reflect on the First World War a century after it began.”

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

“The original idea for the Tate Modern exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography came from a coincidence between two books that have captivated and inspired me for many years: Kurt Vonnegut‘s classic 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five and the Japanese photographer Kikuji Kawada’s 1965 photobook The Map. Both look back to hugely significant and controversial incidents from the Second World War from similar distances.

Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Dresden when what he called ‘possibly the world’s most beautiful city’ was destroyed by incendiary bombs, and struggled to write his war book for almost 25 years. Kawada was a young photographer working in post-war Hiroshima when he began to take the strange photographs of the scarred, stained ceiling of the A-bomb Dome – the only building to survive the explosion – that he would eventually publish on August 6 1965, 20 years to the day since the atomic bomb was dropped on the city.

It may seem odd that these great works of art and literature took so long to emerge from the aftermath of the events they concern. But many of the most complex and considered accounts of conflict have taken their time. To Vonnegut’s painfully slow response to the war, for example, we might add Joseph Heller’s brilliantly satirical Catch-22, published in 1961, and, even more significantly, JG Ballard’s memorial masterpiece Empire of the Sun, which did not see the light of day until 1984.

And today, in 2014, 100 years since the start of the First World War, it seems more important than ever not only to understand the nature and long-term effects of conflict, but also the process of looking back at the past…”

Extract from Simon Baker. “War photography: what happens after the conflict?” on The Telegraph website, 7th November 2014 [Online] Cited 09/02/2015

 

An-My Lê. 'Untitled, Hanoi' (1994-98)

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Hanoi
1994-98
Gelatin silver print on paper
508 x 609mm
Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy, New York

 

Jane Wilson (born 1967) Louise Wilson (born 1967) 'Urville' 2006

 

Jane Wilson (British, born 1967)
Louise Wilson (British, born 1967)
Urville
2006
Gelatin silver print, mounted onto aluminium
1800 x 1800mm
Tate
Purchased 2011

 

Jane Wilson and Louise Wilson 'Azeville' 2006

 

Jane Wilson (British, born 1967)
Louise Wilson (British, born 1967)
Azeville
2006
Gelatin silver print, mounted onto aluminium
1800 x 2900mm
Tate
Purchased 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe. 'As Terras do fim do Mundo' Nd

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
As Terras do fim do Mundo (The Lands of the End of the World)
2009-2010
Courtesy Mark McCain collection

 

 

“At first glance, Jo Ractliffe’s black-and-white shots of sun-baked African landscapes look random and bland: rocks, dirt, scrubby trees; some handwritten signs but no people. Only when reading the titles – “Mass Grave at Cassinga,” “Minefield Near Mupa” – do you learn where the people are, or once were, and the pictures snap into expressive focus.

Ms. Ractliffe, who lives in Johannesburg, took the photographs in 2009 and 2010 in Angola on visits to now-deserted places that were important to that country’s protracted civil war and to the intertwined struggle of neighbouring Namibia to gain independence from South Africa’s apartheid rule. South Africa played an active role in both conflicts, giving military support to insurgents who resisted Angola’s leftist government, and hunting down Namibian rebels who sought safety within Angola’s borders.

It’s through this historical lens that Ms. Ractliffe views landscape: as morally neutral terrain rendered uninhabitable by terrible facts from the past – the grave of hundreds of Namibia refugees, most of them children, killed in an air raid; the unknown numbers of land mines buried in Angola’s soil. Some are now decades old but can still detonate, so the killing goes on.”

Holland Cotter. “Jo Ratcliffe: ‘As Terras do Fim do Mundo (The Lands of the End of the World)’,” on The New York Times website May 26, 2011 [Online] Cited 12/07/2021

 

Kikuji Kawada. 'Hinomaru, Japanese National Flag' from the series 'The Map' 1965

 

Kikuji Kawada (Japanese, b. 1933)
Hinomaru, Japanese National Flag
1965
From the series The Map
Gelatin silver print
279 x 355mm
© Kikuji Kawada, courtesy the artist and Photo Gallery International, Tokyo

 

Kikuji Kawada. 'Lucky Strike' 1962

 

Kikuji Kawada (Japanese, b. 1933)
Lucky Strike
1962
From the series The Map
© Kikuji Kawada, courtesy the artist and Photo Gallery International, Tokyo

 

Kikuji Kawada. 'The A-Bomb Memorial Dome and Ohta River'

 

Kikuji Kawada (Japanese, b. 1933)
The A-Bomb Memorial Dome and Ohta River from the series The Map
Hiroshima 1960-65
Gelatin silver print
© Kikuji Kawada

 

 

Points of memory: Kikuji Kawada

My first published photo book, The Map, took me five years to complete, beginning in 1960. In late 1961 a solo show with work from the series was held at Fuji Photo Salon in Tokyo, organised in three parts.

The first featured a ruined castle that was blown up intentionally by the Japanese army during the Second World War. The second comprised photographs taken a decade after the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima. They showed the stains and flaking ceilings of the Atomic Bomb Dome, the only structure left standing at the heart of the detonation zone. The third part concerned Tokyo during the period of economic recovery: images of advertising, scrap iron, the trampled national flag and emblems of the American Forces such as Lucky Strike and Coca-Cola, all twisted together, their order shuffled again and again. Some appeared as a montage to be presented as a metaphor. I dare not say the meaning of it.

These works led me to attempt to create this photographic book, using the notion of the map as a clue to the future and to question the whereabouts of my spirit. Discarded memorial photographs, a farewell note, kamikaze pilots – the illusions of various maps that emerge are to me like a discussion with the devil. The stains are situated as a key image of the series by drawing a future stratum and sealing the history, the nationality, the fear and anxiety of destruction and prosperity. It was almost a metaphor for the growth and the fall.

On the back of the black cover box are written rhyming words that are almost impossible to read. The front cover shows that the words are about to burn out. Inside, the pages are laid out as hinged double fold-out spreads. The repetition of the act of opening and closing makes the images appear and disappear. I wanted to have a book design as a new object and something that goes beyond the contents. With the rich and chaotic nature of monochrome, it might be that I tried to find my early style within the illusion of reality by abstracting the phenomenon. As an observer, I would like to keep forcing myself into the future, never losing the sense of danger which emerges in the conflicts of daily life. I wish to harmonise my old distorted maps with the heartbeat of this exhibition at Tate Modern, twisting across the bridges of the centuries through conflicting space and time.

Kikuji Kawada is a photographer based in Tokyo.

“Points of memory: Kikuji Kawada: Conflict, Time, Photography,” on the Tate Modern website 3 December 2014 [Online] Cited 12/07/2021

 

Richard Peter. 'Dresden After Allied Raids Germany' 1945

 

Richard Peter (German, 1895-1977)
Dresden After Allied Raids Germany
1945
© SLUB Dresden / Deutsche Fotothek / Richard Peter, sen.

 

Toshio Fukada. 'The Mushroom Cloud - Less than twenty minutes after the explosion (4)' 1945

 

Toshio Fukada (Japanese, b. 1928)
The Mushroom Cloud – Less than twenty minutes after the explosion (4)
1945
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© The estate of Toshio Fukada, courtesy Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

 

Jerzy Lewczyński. 'Wolf's Lair / Adolf Hitler's War Headquarters' 1960

 

Jerzy Lewczyński (Polish, 1924-2014)
Wolf’s Lair / Adolf Hitler’s War Headquarters
1960
© Jerzy Lewczyński

 

Don McCullin. 'Shell Shocked US Marine, Vietnam, The Battle of Hue' 1968

 

Don McCullin (British, b. 1935)
Shell Shocked US Marine, Vietnam, The Battle of Hue
1968, printed 2013
© Don McCullin

 

Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. 'Kurchatov - Architecture of a Nuclear Test Site Kazakhstan. Opytnoe Pole' 2012

 

Ursula Schulz-Dornburg (German, b. 1938)
Kurchatov – Architecture of a Nuclear Test Site Kazakhstan. Opytnoe Pole
2012
Courtesy of the artist’s studio
© Ursula Schultz-Domburg

 

 

Conflict, Time, Photography brings together photographers who have looked back at moments of conflict, from the seconds after a bomb is detonated to 100 years after a war has ended. Staged to coincide with the centenary of the First World War, this major group exhibition offers an alternative to familiar notions of war reportage and photojournalism, instead focusing on the passing of time and the unique ways that artists have used the camera to reflect on past events.

Conflicts from around the world and across the modern era are depicted, revealing the impact of war days, weeks, months and years after the fact. The works are ordered according to how long after the event they were created: images taken weeks after the end of the American Civil War are hung alongside those taken weeks after the atomic bombs fell on Japan in 1945. Photographs from Nicaragua taken 25 years after the revolution are grouped with those taken in Vietnam 25 years after the fall of Saigon. The exhibition concludes with new and recent projects by British, German, Polish and Syrian photographers which reflect on the First World War a century after it began.

The broad range of work reflects the many different ways in which conflict impacts on people’s lives. The immediate trauma of war can be seen in the eyes of Don McCullin’s Shell-shocked US Marine 1968, while the destruction of buildings and landscapes is documented by Pierre Antony-Thouret’s Reims After the War (published in 1927) and Simon Norfolk’s Afghanistan: Chronotopia 2001-2002. Other photographers explore the human cost of conflict, from Stephen Shore’s account of displaced Jewish survivors of the Second World War in the Ukraine, to Taryn Simon’s meticulously researched portraits of those descended from victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

Different conflicts also reappear from multiple points in time throughout the exhibition, whether as rarely-seen historical images or recent photographic installations. The Second World War for example is addressed in Jerzy Lewczyński’s 1960 photographs of the Wolf’s Lair / Adolf Hitler’s War Headquarters, Shomei Tomatsu’s images of objects found in Nagasaki, Kikuji Kawada’s epic project The Map made in Hiroshima in the 1960s, Michael Schmidt’s Berlin streetscapes from 1980, and Nick Waplington’s 1993 close-ups of cell walls from a Prisoner of War camp in Wales.

As part of Conflict, Time, Photography, a special room within the exhibition has been guest-curated by the Archive of Modern Conflict. Drawing on their unique and fascinating private collection, the Archive presents a range of photographs, documents and other material to provide an alternative view of war and memory.

Conflict, Time, Photography is curated at Tate Modern by Simon Baker, Curator of Photography and International Art, with Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, and Professor David Mellor, University of Sussex. It is organised by Tate Modern in association with the Museum Folkwang, Essen and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, where it will tour in spring and summer 2015 respectively. The exhibition is also accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks, events and film screenings at Tate Modern.

Press release from the Tate Modern website

 

Simon Norfolk. 'Bullet-scarred apartment building' 2003

 

Simon Norfolk
 (British, born Nigeria 1963)
Bullet-scarred apartment building and shops in the Karte Char district of Kabul. This area saw fighting between Hikmetyar and Rabbani and then between Rabbani and the Hazaras
2003
© Simon Norfolk

 

Susan Meiselas. 'Managua, July 2004' from the series 'Reframing History'

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Managua, July 2004
2004
From the series Reframing History

 

 

“Cuesto del Plomo,” hillside outside Managua, a well-known site of many assassinations carried out by the National Guard. People searched here daily for missing persons. July 1978, from the series, “Reframing History,” Managua, July 2004

In July 2004, for the 25th anniversary of the overthrow of Somoza, Susan returned to Nicaragua with nineteen mural-sized images of her photographs from 1978-1979, collaborating with local communities to create sites for collective memory. The project, “Reframing History,” placed murals on public walls and in open spaces in the towns, at the sites where the photographs were originally made.

 

 

Nick Waplington. 'Untitled' from the series 'We Live as We Dream, Alone' 1993

 

Nick Waplington (British, b. 1965)
Untitled
1993
From the series We Live as We Dream, Alone

 

Nick Waplington. 'Untitled' from the series 'We Live as We Dream, Alone' 1993

 

Nick Waplington (British, b. 1965)
Untitled
1993
From the series We Live as We Dream, Alone

 

 

Nick Waplington’s deeply moving and once controversial photographs of the cells of Barry Island prison, where Nazi SS Officers were held prisoner before the Nuremburg trials, were taken in 1993, almost 50 years after the prisoners had embellished the cell walls with Germanic slogans and drawings of pin-up girls and Bavarian landscapes will be displayed. The half-century that elapsed between the photographs and the creation of their subject is grim testament to the enduring legacy of conflict…

“In 1992 I was commissioned to make work by the Neue galerie in Graz, Austria and the theme was war or “krieg” as it is in German. Graz is on the border with Yugoslavia and there was war in Yugoslavia at the time. I think they were hoping that I would make something to do with the war that was taking place between Croatia and Serbia and Bosnia. I did go to the war; you went to Zagreb and got a UN pass and went in to the warzone. It was very interesting to be taken into the warzone but ultimately I got back to England and I decided – to the annoyance of the gallery – that I was thinking about Austria instead. At the time, the president of Austria, Kurt Waldheim, had been exposed as a member of the SS and had been informing Yugoslavia during the war [World War Two] and the Austrians were very unconcerned about this. I thought I’d much prefer to make work that had the Austrians confronting their Nazi past rather than about the current conflict. I knew about the prison in Barry Island in South Wales where the SS were held before they were sent to Nuremburg for the trial and I started taking a series of photographs in the prison. It was lucky that I did because it was demolished the following year by the MOD. It’s gone now. When I got there, I saw the prisoners had been drawing on the walls. They’re mossy and crumbling but you can see Germanic lettering and Bavarian landscapes and women with 1940s haircuts. They are evocative and powerful given the emotive history. ”

Extract from Elliot Watson. “Nick Waplington: Conflict, Rim, Photography,” on the Hunger TV website, 26th November 2014 [Online] Cited 09/02/2015. No longer available online

 

Sophie Ristelhueber. 'Fait #25' 1992

 

Sophie Ristelhueber (French, born 1949)
Fait #25
1992
71 photographs, gelatin silver prints mounted on aluminium
Object, each: 1000 x 1240 x 50mm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 2013

 

Sophie Ristelhueber. 'Fait #44' 1992

 

Sophie Ristelhueber (French, born 1949)
Fait #44
1992
71 photographs, gelatin silver prints mounted on aluminium
Object, each: 1000 x 1240 x 50mm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 2013

 

Sophie Ristelhueber. 'Fait #46' 1992

 

Sophie Ristelhueber (French, born 1949)
Fait #46
1992
71 photographs, gelatin silver prints mounted on aluminium
Object, each: 1000 x 1240 x 50mm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 2013

 

Luc Delahaye. 'US Bombing on Taliban Positions' 2001

 

Luc Delahaye (French, b. 1962)
US Bombing on Taliban Positions
2001
C-print
238.6 x 112.2cm
Courtesy Luc Delahaye and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Bruxelles

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Vebranden-Molen, West-Vlaanderen' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (British, b. 1982)
Vebranden-Molen, West-Vlaanderen
2013
Soldat Ahmed ben Mohammed el Yadjizy
Soldat Ali ben Ahmed ben Frej ben Khelil
Soldat Hassen ben Ali ben Guerra el Amolani
Soldat Mohammed Ould Mohammed ben Ahmed
17:00 / 15.12.1914
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (British, b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Seeing what can’t be seen

“This is a challenge still faced by photographers today. Two years ago, the British documentary photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews set about creating a series of her own responding to the World War One. Called Shot at Dawn, it expresses her shock upon discovering that during the conflict around a thousand British, French and Belgian troops were condemned for cowardice or desertion before being executed the following morning by firing squads consisting of comrades from their own battalions. “I never knew this happened,” she tells me. “Until quite recently, no one really talked about it, because the subject was so contentious and taboo.”

Researching her series, Dewe Mathews worked closely with academics to locate the forgotten places along the western front where these unfortunate combatants had been shot. She then travelled to each spot and set up her camera there at dawn, recording whatever could be seen a century after the executions had taken place.

The results are eerie and elegiac – otherwise unremarkable, empty landscapes infused with a powerful sense of mourning, outrage and loss.”

Extract from Alastair Sooke. “Beyond boots and guns: A new look at the horrors of war,” on BBC Culture website, 11 November 2014 [Online] Cited 09/02/2015

.
For more information please see the excellent article by Sean O’Hagan. “Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial” on The Guardian website [Online] Cited 09/02/2015

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Six Farm, Loker, West-Vlaanderen' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (British, b. 1982)
Six Farm, Loker, West-Vlaanderen
2013
Private Joseph Byers
Private Andrew Evans
Time unknown / 6.2.1915
Private George E. Collins
07:30 / 15.2.1915
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

Stephen Shore. 'Tzylia Bederman, Bucha, Ukraine, July 18, 2012'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Tzylia Bederman, Bucha, Ukraine, July 18, 2012
2012
Courtesy of Stephen Shore

 

Pierre Anthony-Thouret. 'Plate I' 1927 from 'Reims after the war'

 

Pierre Anthony-Thouret (French, 1861-1926)
Plate I
1927
from Reims after the war. The mutilated cathedral. The devastated city.
Private collection, London

 

 

The limits of realism

“So how can photographers respond to conflict if not by employing strategies commonly found in photojournalism about war? One alternative approach is to focus less on documenting the heat of battle and more on remembrance – something that feels relevant this year, which marks the centenary of the start of the World War One.

Some of the most moving evocations of the Great War were captured by commercial photographers who arrived in northeast France in the wake of the conflict, when people began travelling to the region in order to see for themselves the extent of the devastation of local villages, towns, and cities. There was enormous appetite for images recording the destruction, available in the form of cheap guidebooks and postcards.

“This is one of the first episodes of mass tourism in the history of the world,” explains [curator Simon] Baker. “There were 300 million postcards sent from the western front, for instance by people visiting the places where their relatives had died. And the photographers had to make these incredible compromises: making photographs of places that weren’t there anymore.”

In the case of Craonne, which was entirely obliterated by artillery, the village had to be rebuilt on a nearby site, while the ruins of the original settlement were abandoned to nature. As a result, the only way for photographers to identify Craonne was by providing a caption.

“The idea of photographing absence became really important,” says Baker. “War is about destruction, removing things, disappearance. A really interesting photographic language about disappearance in conflict emerged and it is extremely powerful. How does one record something that is gone?””

Extract from Alastair Sooke. “Beyond boots and guns: A new look at the horrors of war,” on BBC Culture website, 11 November 2014 [Online] Cited 09/02/2015

 

Pierre Anthony-Thouret. 'Plate XXXVIII' 1927

 

Pierre Anthony-Thouret (French, 1861-1926)
Plate XXXVIII
1927
from Reims after the war. The mutilated cathedral. The devastated city.
Private collection, London

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm

Tate Modern website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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