Category Archives: War

Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art)

During April 2012, I was part of a group photographic workshop in London where we jointly remade the catalogue for the 1937 Nazi ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition, the world’s first ‘blockbuster’ art show. Information on it can be found here.

The ‘remade’ publication we produced can be viewed here.

WAR against WAR!

There has been much debate in recent years as to the value of traditional frontline war reportage. One of the primary arguments is that this kind of warzone imagery is so lacking in context as to serve as little more than  documentary evidence of isolated events within limited geographical locations. It neither informs nor stimulates us to think about the causes of war, the immediate effects of war on anyone outside of the frame of vision, nor the longer term impacts after the killing has stopped. If we add to the mix the highly technical nature of modern warfare where much of the activity occurs within computers potentially thousands of miles away, changes within news organisations with the new media possibilities, and broader geopolitical factors in the complex web of contemporary international relations, it’s perhaps understandable why many people perceive traditional war photography to have past its sell-by date.

By a similar measure, if we look back into photobook history we find relatively few examples of practitioners pushing the medium in trying to explore the broader context of war within their productions. There are notable exceptions of course – Philip Jones Griffiths with his famous work on Indochina, perhaps Stanley Green with his work in the Central Caucasus, Simon Norfolk with his work on Afghanistan and modern warfare generally, and Susuan Meiselas and her work in Central America immediately spring to mind – but one can’t help feel that photographically there has been somewhat of a failure to tackle the full vista of war with all it’s complexities, absurdities, and horror.

One individual who definitely transcends these criticisms is the German pacifist anarchist, Ernst Friedrich, who in 1924 produced one of the first (and arguably, still the best) photographic attempts at scrutinising warfare in his seminal photobook, WAR against WAR! Since its publication in 1924 there have been as many as a million copies in circulation, translated into forty languages. It’s a book that should be well known, however the majority of people I know with a deep interest in photography have never heard of it nor him. I first became aware of Friedrich last year at a Tate symposium on Violence and Representation. In a somewhat unusual scenario, a presentation was made which included some of WAR against WAR’s more horrific images. Such was their power the proceeding speaker (Susan Meiselas) was visibly shaken and struggled to make it through her own presentation, breaking down in fact during the Q&A that followed.

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