Conflict, Time, Photography @ Tate Modern

approaching the Millennium Bridge

approaching the Millennium Bridge

An early train to London but I miss it; although at the station on time, they change the platform and I hear no correction of this though I might have seen it on the notice board. An hour’s wait but this gives time to review the exhibition catalogue a little more before leaving. I have seen it briefly and was impressed by the photographic content; the exhibition I saw in Antwerp about the First World War was fascinating but it only showed photography from the time most of which was amateurish. The exhibition did examine the way photography had been used and that was fascinating particularly in the controls put upon it which were however, often ignored.

view of Tate Modern

view of Tate Modern

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entrance to the Tate Modern

“Conflict, Time, Resolution” is different in that it uses photography to make a statement about war, presenting images rather than analysing them. There is no interpretation although there is a catalogue with essays and much reference is made to the novel by Kurt Vonnegut called Slaughterhouse 5 which starts by discussing the difficulties in presenting warfare through an artistic medium. In particular, the problem for Vonnegut is “that’s of looking backwards in time without becoming frozen and numb” (as curator Simon Baker writes in his essay “Armageddon in Retrospect”) and so he moves about in time, relating not only to the past events but to his present as well as an imaginary future which with characteristic Vonnegut humour, is based on a planet from “where the flying saucers come.”
Time has a special significance in this exhibition since it is not confined to the photojournalistic recording of the present but sees the event as a record from the past reverberating in the present. This non-chronological approach is neatly summarised by Leo Rubinfien writing about Japanese Photobooks who says that such work “asks us to see through the now that it is showing us, into the then that pervades the now and gives it its meaning.”
notice at entrance to the galleries showing the Conflict, Time, Photography exhibition

notice at entrance to the galleries showing the Conflict, Time, Photography exhibition

Simon Baker writes about Japanese photographers such as Moriyama, Tomatsu, Domon, Kawada and Kimura; the Japanese contribution reflects Hiroshima and Nagasaki yet these are established photographers. He writes that Moriyama “best encapsulates the sense in which the physical and the impalpable coexist in the very essence of the photographic medium.” Philosopher and critic Koji Taki wrote in the 1960s “The specific truth of the photograph is not objective and not a ‘universal truth’. I do not ask of the photographer an explanation of his subject. For me it is enough that the image appears, a one time deal, irreplaceable.”
One photobook about Hiroshima states, “The purpose of this book is to arouse in its readers such emotions as will guide and encourage them in their efforts for peaceful progress towards those goals to which we all aspire.”
Tomatsu is one photographer who has continued to photograph in Nagasaki, aware of two times; the moment the bomb was dropped and the unravelling story that is a consequence of that event, describing a Japan that is “characterised principally by Americanisation.”
The photographer Kawada has included final letters from suicide pilots to their families while Tsuchida has photographed objects found in the city of Hiroshima that bear some kind of memory of the event; for instance, a wrist watch was found in the river in 1955, a decade after the event, the hands of which showed the exact time of the bombing.
Kurt Vonnegut’s book is about memories as “bugs in amber” and it seems to me that photographs are a bit like this in appearance particularly older photographs which were sepia toned, part to help preserve them and for aesthetic effect as well as reduce excessive contrast.
Fortunately, there is a multimedia guide for this exhibion which can be listened to free on an iPad via the Tate WiFi –
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OCA tutors, from the left … Russell Squires, Sharon Boothroyd, (Keith Greenough) and Clive White in front of a Don McCullin photograph of the Somme

Meet tutor Russell who suggests considering the nature of the curation including the selection of images. He also talked about the way in which Caesium released at time of nuclear fall out now used in testing for art forgery. Russell points out Sherman’s contacts of plate camera photographs which show incredible detail.
On my second initial view, I note a few works that appeal … Luc Delahnaye, Chandarin and Broomberg (their multi-coloured panorama and multi image wall display), Simon Norfolk’s colour images, old Anthony-Thouret images of bomb damage, Fenton’s phoney yet iconic Valley of Death, Taryn Simon’s colour images revealing lost family members, Don McCullins images of Berlin Wall being erected, Bunker Archaeology of Paul Virilio, Tomatsu’s post Nagasaki prints with a selection of books loaned by Martin Parr, Schulz-Dornburg’s Becher like prints from a nuclear site in Kazakstan, Susan Mieselas’ work in particular the video work showing being shown in its original locations, An-My’s fine Gelatin silver prints from Vietnam, Tsuchida’s large prints of objects from the time, Waplington’s prints of artwork by POWs interesting once you know what they are of, Wilson’s photographs of architectural remains from the war spoilt by excessive contrast, Chloe Dewe Mathews whose Shot at Dawn work I saw in Brighton; her images are sombre in appearance which seems to appropriate the subject rather than imply lack of photographic ability …
Interesting the way the word “conflict” seems to have replaced the word “war” and it strikes me as an intelligent change, more descriptive rather than emphatic.
OCA discussion gets underway

OCA discussion gets underway

The OCA get together for a discussion afterwards; including tutors of which there are three, we are almost 30 people!
This exhibition makes one think abut the far reaching effects of war! Effect of time on the events! Wonderful historic insight which is one reason I like photography.
Has photography lost its balls? Has to reinvent itself nowadays! Work in this exhibition needed explanation as the context is often not clear. Conceptual art!
Is one looking at it as photography or a record of conflict?
Interesting sometimes confusing relation to time.
Large size of photographs! Filling walls with images such as in the Sophie Ristelhuber exhibit which formed a Photobook called “Fait” that has been especially re-released in a Book on Book. I am initially not impressed by these photographs and their surreal colour although they do give a clear idea of what the subject is after a certain amount of looking while others do not as in the case of Chloe Dewe Mathews for instance where text is needed to bring out the meaning. On revisiting it, I can see the way in which the Sophie Ristelhube has expertly captured conflict without need for captions although knowing the context does enhance one’s understanding of the work.
About traces of conflict!? Memories. Scars both obvious and hidden.
Complex presentation. Not easy to understand without some conceptual prompt.
Two ways to see exhibition; as history, as photography!
A group of micro-exhibitions rather than one? Exhibition uses late photography.
Text often required to give location or a similar context.
Photographs of Hitler’s office not really about conflict? Seem a little sensationalist.
Were the photographers involved taking sides? Does the curator present a polarised view? The answer to this is apparently not although images are sometimes made from one side.
McCullin’s bomb shocked soldier iconic – does not need context unlike many of the other images. Says something about the modern human condition. The meaning of this photograph has gone far beyond the intentions of the photographer.
Lack of human suffering revealed in show? What about woman with stretched skin and scarred face along with others. Susan Mieselas shows elements of human suffering with body bits. Do we need to see body parts? They connect us to the human reality of war. Photographs of people blinded by the event.
Reflects on the nature of photography rather than just the historical facts.
Photographs of weeds growing long after the event.
Man on ladder, a negative caused by the blinding blast of the bomb.
Large format photography used in early days is impressive; still used these days but in a different context.
McCullin never thought he was making photographs for the gallery or as art yet nowadays photographers do consider such results.
Curator placing photographs together for further effect.
Exhibition more about the responses of photographers rather than war? Keith reckons.
About three things .. Conflict, time and photography as is made obvious in the title of the exhibition.
Visual bias to the exhibits; not about warfare rather a record of conflict, a much wider meaning.
In regard to presentation, Jim Goldberg’s work was different as he had some photographs lying on the floor with haphazard placing of other photographs. Mostly the curation was fairly straightforward with photographs being framed.
Did photography loose the Vietnam War? Attitudes of the military have changed towards freelance photographers. Clearly, there is an impact on war by photographers, mainly because of the widespread influence of media.
Perhaps this exhibition serves to remind one that photographs are not meant to be entirely visual delights; words give further meaning and depth, context, that goes towards making them such unique documents with a quality that painting can only attempt.
The OCA write up of the day is here
St.Pauls cathedral at night seen from the Millennium Bridge

St.Pauls cathedral at night seen from the Millennium Bridge

In an essay entitled The Modern Archive of Conflict, Shoair Mavlian discusses both photography and the archive which are “children of the nineteenth century” sharing a “relentless appetite for recording, measuring and categorising.” They are inextricably bound together and often result in “two extremes of literalism and abstraction.”
Photography has influenced the archive by its ability to accurately record and also the apparent authority it holds over recording the past.

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