Conflict, Time, Photography 05.03.15

  • Simon Norfolk: Bullet-scarred apartment building and shops in the Karte Char district of Kabul. This area saw fighting between Hikmetyar and Rabbani and then between Rabbani and the Hazaras, 2003

  • An-My Le: Untitled, Hanoi 1994-98 – from the series Untitled, Vietnam

  • Ursula Schulz-Dornburg Kurchatov: Architecture of a Nucleur Test Site, Kazakhstan, Opytnoe Pole, 2012

  • Jerzy Lewczynski: Wolf s Lair / Adolf Hitler s War Headquarters, 1960

  • Jo Ractliffe: As Terras do fim do Mundo, 2009

  • Shomei Tomatsu: Steel Helmet with Skull Bone Fused by Atomic Bomb, Nagasaki, 1963

  • Pierre Anthony-Thouret: Plate XXXVIII 1927 – from Reims After the War: The Mutilated Cathedral, The Devastated City.

  • Luc Delahaye: US Bombing on Taliban Positions, 2001

  • Kikuji Kawada: The Japanese National Flag, Tokyo, 1965 – from the series The Map

  • Don McCullin: Shell Shocked US Marine, Vietnam, Hue, 1968; printed 2013

  • Chloe Dewe Mathews Vebranden-Molen: West-Vlaanderen, 2013

  • Toshio Fukada: The Mushroom Cloud - Less than twenty minutes after the explosion, 1945

An exhibition at Tate Modern reveals the horrors of war through its impact on the built and natural environment and objects, rather than on people

In his book The Least of All Possible Evils, Eyal Weizman presents the idea of "forensic architecture", a method of analysing war crimes through impact on the built environment as opposed to the scars it has left on people. He points out that such evidence is increasingly being called on by international courts, as it is seen as more objective than human testimony.

A similar thinking appears to be behind Conflict, Time, Photography, an exhibition of war photography at Tate Modern, which ends next week. While, Don McCullin's portrait of a shell-shocked US marine in Vietnam and the abstract image The Day Nobody Died by Broomberg & Chanarin are included, most images focus on the impact of war on inanimate objects and the environment – from photos of nuclear testing sites, to a clock that stopped at the moment the atom bomb hit Nagasaki, to spaces formerly used by the Third Reich ("Harp room: formerly Hitler's breakfast room").

This is, perhaps, also a result of the method by which the exhibition is organised. Photos are arranged not by place or the era of conflict, but by how long after an event they were taken – starting with "seconds after" continuing through days, weeks, months, years and then decades after. The focus is then perhaps a symptom of the fact that buildings and objects often retain the physical evidence of conflict long after the people involved have perished or left the scene.

The war in Afghanistan, for example, is portrayed in Simon Norfolk's series Chronotopia. "The sheer length of war means ruins have a bizarre layering, different moments of destruction lying like sedimentary strata on top of each other," he says. Meanwhile, Sophie Ristelhueber's 1992 images of rubble in the desert, taken months after the first Gulf war, are described as "wounds inflicted on the landscape", which represent the "dual abandonment of men and objects".

Diana Matars presents photos from her book "Evidence", images of "spaces where violations took place" in Libya 2012 – of locations where Gaddafi executed and tortured people. Meanwhile, Michael Schmidt's photos of the Berlin Wall reveal the gaps between buildings in a once-thriving area of Berlin, the development of which was halted after the erection of the wall.

Indre Serpytyte's photos show models of houses in Lithuania used for torture during Soviet occupation – strikingly ordinary buildings that were eventually returned to their use as family homes.

Some of the most recent photos are Jane and Louise Wilson's pictures of structures built in northern France by the Germans during the second world war, which are currently subject to debate over whether they should be preserved. In the final room is Agata Madejska's photograph of a Canadian memorial – a structure that took twice as long to build as the war it was designed to commemorate.

Conflict, Time, Photography at Tate Modern ends on 15 March 2015

 

Words

Debika Ray

 

Images: Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo; Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Bruxelles; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (Tokyo, Japan); Murray Guy, New York; Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery and Photo Gallery International

quotes story

The sheer length of war means ruins have a bizarre layering, different moments of destruction lying like sedimentary strata on top of each other

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