October 30th, 2008
The Brighton Photo Bienalle 2008 is a series of photography exhibitions running in various locations around Sussex from October to 16th November 2008. In Brighton the exhibition runs at Fabrica, Brighton University Gallery and Lighthouse. Reviews follow.
Why Mister, Why comprises of a series of images taken in Iraq at the start of the war from 2003 – 2004. The photos come with little explanation, they are simply grouped in themes of Raids, Massgraves and the festival of Ashura, with smaller titles for sets within each theme. The lack of detailed descriptions mean the images are allowed to speak for themselves, and move from the pure photo journalism into a more artistic realm.
Although the festival is focusing on war, this exhibition manages to combine a number of areas of Iraqi life. Within the images of raids, the photographer exposes some of the horror of the invasion. The uncovered mass graves, are especially moving, and have nothing to do with the American invasion, focusing instead of attrocities of an altogether more local kind. The Ashura images focus on a festival which would occur pre or post invasion. This is a portrait of Iraq which takes the war as one apsect of a countrys larger historical and cultural setting. An excellent piece of work, and a taste of what life in Iraq must be like.
Iraq through the lens of Vietnam consists of photographs taken during the US invasions of Vietnam and Iraq.
The exhibition begins by showing images taken during Vietnam, some by journalists working alongside US Troops, and more interestingly some taken by members of the Vietnamese army. Many of the images are shocking, one of a group of Vietnamese soldiers laughing at the body of a young girl lying on the road semi naked with her brains blown out was especially hard to take. Many of the Vietnamese images have rarely been seen in a gallery, and were never published in the West at the time of the war. Seeing them felt a privilege and a peek into the past.
Thinking the Vietnamese images would be somehow more shocking than those from Iraq was a mistake. The second room, like the Vietnam images, the photos here were taken by both sides. From the US side we see many of the now famous Abu Ghraib shots of prisoner abuse, US propoganda images of Iraqi’s celebrating with the soldiers and relatively mundane photos taken of the US Army by journalists working alongside them. These I had all either heard about, or seen before. The images taken by Iraqi’s were altogether more disturbing – even when compared to the prison images – and spoke of a country which has been literally ruined by invasion. Such images as an Iraqi boy with his legs blown off being carried away by his bloodied friends, burnt US soldiers hanging from a bridge and dead children in coffins and on the ground leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
The comparisons between the two wars are obvious, and the images taken by the Iraqi’s were very similar to those taken by the Vietnamese. There was a glaring difference between the photo’s taken by journalists working with the US army in the Vietnam war, and those working today. Whilst many of western journalists images in Vietnam were still shocking to a degree and therefore realistic, the one’s taken now show very little, and tell a tiny part of the story. This is put down to the army restricting the photo’s journalists are allowed to take, a lack of interest by news agencies in showing the true horror of the war (in sharp contrast to the closing days of Vietnam when people had turned on the war and wanted it to end), and the journalists beginning to sympathise with the troops they were travelling with. It is interesting that the only really disturbing images we saw in the west were taken by the soldiers themselves, for personal use.
All in all, an unmissable exhibition.