This is my learning log for the OCA Ditigal Photographic Practice course

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Current Conflicts Seminar–Study visit - 7 September 2013

Space 2 Gallery, Watford Museum
This visit was led by OCA tutor Les Monaghan. Prior to the visit, we ere given an essay to read in preparation for the visit. This was a short piece by Julian Stallabrass, The Power and Impotence of Images.
This essay followed on nicely from recent discussions in the Thames Valley study group. In summary, the essay discussed:
  • The assertion that democracy and the free market system leads to exploitation of the developing world and that war and torture are the inevitable consequences.
  • The depiction of the these conflicts and acts of torture has changed over time as the media corporations are now profit driven, pay less for news stories and the 24 hour news channels demand ever faster distribution of the images.
  • The relationship between military strategy, the conduct of war, media and technology.
  • The embedding of journalists within military units and how this gives a very narrow view of the conflict, easier to control.
  • References to Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and Nick Davies Flat Earth News which paint a bleak future for mankind and photojournalism as a career.
  • The rise of TV news and the use of the images from ‘Citizen Journalists’ undermining the work of the photojournalist.
  • The comparison of  the media as it is now and what it was at the time of the Vietnam war and the danger that any opposition is drowned out and eroded by the constant barrage of news and images that bombard us 24/7.
Current Conflicts Exhibition
The gallery showed the work of six photographers and each (with one exception) gave a short presentation about their work and joined the discussion of the exhibits and the end of the visit.
Matthew Andrew – Constructs
Large format images. Interest in photographic truth, reality and unreality. Photos of fake objects. Developed into the depiction of fake war. Parallels between drones and war games – war gaming sites – simulations – not training but war games – enthusiasts realism. Became interested in the landscapes that these war games occupy. Engineered landscapes made for war games. Large print.
Olivia Hollamby – Home Front
To photograph war you do not need to be in the battle zone. Honest representation of what war is about on a personal level. Absence  - Her collection showed photographs from her husband on the front line with personal found objects of her husband’s around the home. Poignant and very personal. In her talk she showed images from other photographers but unfortunately she was very quietly spoken and my voice recorder did not pick up her narration well enough for me to understand or remember what she had said.
Les Monaghan – on Richard Monje
A series of British bullets recovered from Afghanistan and photographed, in detail close up almost as abstracts. Quite beautiful to look at  but sinister too. Les raised the question of how far do you go in aestheticising images of war? (from the view point of the artist of course) He also mention Monje’s series of photographs of dummy IEDs that he made and photographed.
Les Monaghan – From the Forest
Work in progress. Our participation in looking and questioning will help it progress. Series shows a group of officer cadets on survival training isolated in the environment. Les questioned his own motives for making the series. As a journalist he was used to taking photos of people and telling their stories, communicating his ideas and maybe presenting and helping them with their problems. With this series he explained that he didn’t really care about the people in these photos, he wasn’t concerned about how arduous the experience was for them, he found he was more concerned about the aesthetics of the images.
Jamie SimonsIn Transit
Series of portraits of US soldiers taken at Atlanta Airport while grounded for 6 hours. Taken with compact camera. Jamie felt it perverse as he was going off  on honeymoon and these men and women were returning to war in Afghanistan. He found the subjects were showing individuality even within their collective identity by sitting alone and not communicating with each other. Suggested that they may be using the transit lounge, a sort of no mans land between the normality of their home lives and the reality of  the war situation they were returning to, taking the time to remember and reflect on their family lives. Jamie is a commercial portrait photographer and does not consider himself as an artist.
Christopher Down – Visions from Arcadia
Shot over 2 years as part of MA. Follows the seasons which are cyclical and unending like the vicious circle of war which humans find themselves in. Real servicemen preparing for, resting from and departing for a tour of Afghanistan. Set in the idealised landscapes of England (Arcadia) Not intended as heroic portrayal but rather Arcadia is an ideal that is fictional and doesn’t exist and cannot be realised.
In summing up, Les explained that this exhibition was intended as an alternative representation of war, a different way of looking at the destructive cycle of death and destruction. From Matthew’s landscapes of war game constructs, Olivia’s personal interpretation of what war means to those directly and indirectly involved, Richard’s aesthetic look at the objects of destruction, Chris’s view of the inevitability of war and the seemingly inescapable cycle, Jamie’s compulsion the record the likenesses of soldiers in transit as their paths crossed on their way to completely opposite extremes in the human experience and Les’s depiction of a possible alternative life he could have had if he’d followed his father into the RAF.
On a personal level I found this exhibition interesting. With two grandfathers as career soldiers, a father who spent time in the army up to the outbreak of WW2, when he was invalided out and 12 years as an MOD civilian working in the Army Education Service I found a lot of resonances. Living in a community with strong Army connections and towards the end of my time in the MOD, working with the injured service personnel at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre and seeing the results of the destructive influences of war, both physically and mentally, I have found myself almost inured to war, resigned to mankind’s spiral into self destruction, hoping against hope that somehow, somewhere there is answer.

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