Monday, 27 October 2008

Documentary Photography (2)

I felt attracted by the book title - Aftermath: War Is Only Half the Story - looked at a few pictures on the internet, and thought the project, and the pictures, interesting. I imagined it to be a work of documentary photography on the long-term fate of victims of conflict. And, in a way, it is but …

It starts with a text entitled “the journey is the destination” (I later found out that this wasn’t the title but the motto for the following text carried it too), the subtitle says: “Jim Goldberg was interviewed by Kirsten Rian”, there is however no interview to be found but a text that consists of two sentences that, when they end, immediately begin again and stretch over several pages: “Muzaffar ‘Alex’ Jafari writes about his journey on foot from Afghanistan to Greece via Iran. Now Alex is in school and supports himself by working in a call center’. These two endlessly repeated sentences are accompanied by a selection of photographs that, unfortunately, come without captions. Whatever the intention for this was, I’m not terribly interested to know. I liked however how most of the pictures were composed although I wasn't entirely sure how some of them were related to “the journey is the destination.”

Then comes a well-told and interesting story by Andrew Stanbridge about the hills with bomb craters in northern Laos. The craters are a legacy of intense bombing in the 1960s and 1970s. American forces dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War. The pictures, again without captions, that follow this text are however not of Laos but of Africans (?!).
Then once again comes the above mentioned text by Andrew Stanbridge. Then pictures of Laos, thankfully with captions, are displayed. One photo shows rebar. Why would anybody think a photo of rebar worth selecting for a book? Well, the caption says it all: "Rebar made from melted down bombs". A powerful message.
Then, for the third time, Andrew Stanbridge’s text, this time followed by pictures. I had no idea what they showed. No captions, no additional information, mostly scenes in black and white that seemed to show places inside, or nearby, buildings.

The book left me somehow at a loss. Then, on Google, I found a helpful text by Simon Winchester. Here it is:

“Founded by photographer and writer Sara Terry, the nonprofit Aftermath Project documents the long-term repercussions of conflict that are so often neglected by the popular media. Terry, whose work has been widely exhibited at such venues as the United Nations and the Museum of Photography in Antwerp, initiated this project after her extensive documentary work on postwar Bosnia. Through grant competitions and partnerships with other institutions, Aftermath disseminates reportage on postconflict rehabilitation and attempts to create new avenues for peace. War Is Only Half the Story presents the winners of the Aftermath Project’s first annual grant competition: Jim Goldberg, whose project The New Europeans records the struggles of asylum seekers and immigrants; Wolf Böwig, whose The Forgotten Island: Narratives of War in Sierra Leone (second place) is recounted through the eyes of five-year-old Morie, the sole survivor of an attack on Bonthe Island; and runners-up Andrew Stanbridge (postwar reconstruction in Laos), Asim Rafiqui (the hidden costs of war and peace-building efforts in Kashmir) and Paula Luttringer (a survey of sites in Argentina where women and their children were abducted between 1976 and 1983). The imagery in this volume represents some of today’s most challenging and diverse documentary work.”

Thanks for letting me know. It’s unlikely that I would have guessed that this is what my eyes showed me. I must however admit that the “attempts to create new avenues for peace” eluded me.

War Is Only Half the Story
Jim Goldberg, Wolf Böwig,
Paula Luttringer, Asim Rafiqui, Andrew Stanbridge
Aperture, New York, 2008

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