Today I visited the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath show at the Brooklyn Museum.
I highly recommended it, despite the fact that I found too many familiar images — perhaps as many at 1/3 were well known to me. I wasn’t counting in order to be exact, but that is my impression. These included iconic pictures by Eddie Adams, Larry Burrows, Robert Capa, and many others, whose works have been published and circulated in the major American media. I spotted several images that have been used on the covers of books that I have read, including one of the Marine landing at Inchon, a photo of Soviet civilians looking for loved ones among the dead after a battle, and one taken at Stalingrad that appears on the cover of my copy of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate.
Personally I would’ve liked to see fewer well-known images and more pictures from conflicts that have generally escaped the American gaze, although, to be fair, there were pictures of survivors of the genocide in the Rwanda, Serbia, the Irish “troubles” of the 1960s, and most interestingly, a photograph taken in Paris during the revolution of 1848. Those images were powerful and arresting because they were new to me.
The show generally achieves the objectives the curators set. They wanted to take viewers from the moment of “origins,” when wars begin, through training, to deployment, combat and all its ramifications, finally bringing visitors back home again to a section on remembrance. It is a densely packed set of galleries, filled with images, and they are right to warn audiences that it can be an emotionally intense experience. For me, the images of the wounded and maimed — soldiers and civilians — were the hardest. These pictures do powerfully demonstrate the human commonalities embedded in the experience of armed conflict.
Immediately after visiting the show I attended a gallery talk by one of the assistant curators, who explain the logic behind the organization and the choices the original curators had made. (The show is traveling from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.)
The Brooklyn Museum, working with Story Corps, has brought veterans and veterans groups in to view it and give feedback, which can only be a good thing. The assistant curator I listened to indicated that part of the goal of the exhibition is to stimulate conversation between service personnel, veterans and civilians about the nature of warfare, and our various rolls in it.
Go see it. It is open until February 2, 2014.