Today I visited the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, where they have a new exhibition on called ‘History through a Lens: Iconic Photographs from the Incite Project’
The exhibition displayed documentary and photojournalism photography from some of the greats; Don McCullin, Steve McCurry, Dorothea Lange, W. Eugene Smith and Robert Capa. As described in the exhibition, by extracting the photographs from their context within newspapers and their accompanying captions they become standalone art within their own context. I found the exhibition to be very moving and thought-provoking. Some of the images were very tough to view but great photography doesn’t shy away from controversial issues, it tackles it head on. A number of the photographs covered conflict, war, historical issues of race, religion, refugees and politics.
The whole exhibition had me thinking again about the boundaries in photography (if there are any?!), I mean, what can or can’t be photographed, or perhaps what should and shouldn’t be photographed? Are their limits on what is acceptable or is everything/anything fair game as far as subject matter and subject is concerned? Do I think suggestion is more powerful as a story telling tool/technique than shock? I am curious as to the longevity of the shock factor in imagery against perhaps a more psychological, suggestive approach. Once I have moved past the initial step of an image being shocking is there anything within that image that makes me want to return to view it or stay looking at it? I guess if I were to illustrate this, I would say the image of the Shell shocked marine by Don McCullin or the image by Henri Huet of the dead US paratrooper being airlifted say more to me about war than anything else I have seen. That is not to say they aren’t shocking in their own way, they are, the images sit with me in my mind for a long time but they used a different method of delivery.
I think the exhibition shows the historical importance of photographry as a means to record the past. It also illustrated to me again how the photographs from photojournalism and documentary photograhy can stand within their own space, seperate from its original intention, text or captions to become art within a gallery space.
I was really moved by all of the photography that was on display today but one of the images by Nilüfer Demir showed a dead Syrian child refugee on the beach, I remember the image being featured in newspapers and in the media. I believe the boys name was Alan Kurdi, he was 3 years old. It really cuts deep. I haven’t included a snapshot of the image in my write up… it feels disrespectful. I spent some time viewing the image and just thinking….no thats wrong….feeling, it was emotion not thought. We get wrapped up in our own little world sometimes and then when you see something like this it puts your whole life in perspective. Maybe in this instance the shock works. Most of us have a really comfortable life, whilst others are literally fighting for their lifes, fleeing from conflict or famine and sadly in many cases, dying. I can sit here comfortably and write up my random thoughts but I don’t mean to pass any judgement. I remember seeing the image when it was in the papers and thinking this has got to change things, people will act, rise up, help but I fear nothing has changed and it just feels like this revolving cycle of documenting the human condition.
I would highly recommend this exhibit to my fellow students.
Some snapshots from my i-Phone of the exhibition: