Landscapes of Conflict
How do Photographers respond to Modern Warfare?
1 Day Seminar from LOOK11 Photography Festival
CUC Centre Liverpool May 25th 2011
Photo by Tim Hetherington
This seminar was held on the day that Obama and Cameron celebrated their
special relationship in London as 'World Leaders for Democracy' with a
barbecue for invited armed forces families. When I saw their grinning
faces as they served up hunks of grilled meat I couldn't help thinking
about the charred bodies I have had the misfortune to view in recent war
'Landscapes of Conflict' was an interesting event as it showed that many
war photographers are now producing bodies of work which do not show the
dead bodies. The image makers are increasingly showing only the traces
of war rather than the effects on the human body.
Paul Lowe host for the day is based at the London College of Communication
and has produced a substantial body of work from the war zones of Rwanda,Chechnya
and Bosnia. Look online if you want to see some of the horrendous scenes
he has photographed. He has co-curated the 'Collateral Damage' exhibition
on the 5th floor at the CUC for LOOK11 with Harry Hardie. He introduced
us to the work of Mishka Henner who has used fifty one Google Earth 'crowd
sourced' images to frame aerial shots of various worldwide Military Bases.
Interestingly in one of Mishka's other projects called 'Dutch Military
Bases' Holland have censored their Google Earth images with camouflage
style imagery. Those photos which we viewed later in the screening room
were really powerful pieces of Contemporary Art in themselves.
Tim Hetherington award winning war photographer and film maker born
in Merseyside began his career working for the Big Issue magazine. His
directorial debut film
about a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan, was awarded the Grand Jury
Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Also check out his short film
'sleeping soldiers' online at Vimeo. He was commissioned last year to
show his photos of soldiers' grafitti for this exhibition. Sadly he was
killed on 20th April whilst covering conflict in Libya.
One wall had huge black and white posters by Ashley Gilbertson of a child's
bedroom, a child who became a man and never came home. The photographer
has also made a series of images of dead soldiers bedrooms in the US.
which are forever left like shrines by their devastated families. Another
wall was covered by scanned images and letters which were sent to an inmate
at Guantanamo Bay. Apparently inmates are not allowed original mail which
has been sent to them.
We visited Milk and Sugar to view Donovan Wylies 'British Watchtowers'
and John Davies images of Liverpool war 'landmarks' including his first
war image a Cenotaph style November 10th Remembrance Sunday ceremony outside
St. Georges Hall 2002 part of his show Signs of War which was taken a
year before the British invasion of Iraq. John Davies talked to us about
his own feelings of war mentioning how we have memorials in every town
commemorating the atrocities and innocently sing war songs as school children.
My parents were evacuated as children from London when war broke out and
my mum had her hair chopped off and her sweets stolen by a cruel guardian.
She also had her own mickey mouse gas mask. My father was conscripted
into the Parachute Regiment and was positioned in Egypt guarding the Suez
Canal when he reached manhood. I grew up in a street nicknamed 'Widows
Row' as most of the houses were lived in by women who lost their soldier
husbands in the war. From a very young age I was aware that war caused
untold misery, fatherless children, loss and loneliness.
Back in the screening room we were shown various photographers work on
the theme of war. Dr. Jennifer Pollard talked us through her work about
the iconic imagery around the destruction of the twin towers in New York
and showed us an image from the ceremony held when the last iron beam
was removed from Ground Zero. Mishka Henner also showed us more of his
recent Google Earth projects including one on Libyan Oil fields. There
are certainly some fearless people out there sacrificing their safety
and sanity to show the world the realities of life. I once met some old
soldiers who told me they had liberated Auschwitz, how different to current
wars which mainly seem to be about pillaging oil fields.
I left the building feeling so glad I did not live in a war zone. The
sun was shining hard and the streets felt hopeful. I let my head decompress
from the horrors it had felt for one day when suddenly I looked up and
saw a length of Mill street, Dingle covered in St. Georges flags. It was
like being back in Northern Ireland where each village I passed through
near Belfast asserted its identity through flags and painted kerb stones.
The traces of war were closer than I thought.