On the surface, Evidence by Gary Knight & Anthony Lloyd and Max Khandola’s Illustration of a Life propose two vastly different approaches to the presentation of documentary photography. Both are created out of passionate engagement with their subject matter and a determination to honour and preserve the realities of the authors’ experiences for posterity, however, Evidence has a direct message, its publication motivated by a perceived need to remind us of war crimes in Kosovo in the light of President Milosevic’s trial in The Hague; whereas Khandola’s equally challenging subject matter – a highly personal and intimate account of his father’s death from cancer, is dealt with in a more abstract manner, its message left ambiguous.
With its long rectangular format, black cover, scarlet lining and text presented like typewritten reports, Evidence has something of the look of an official document. Lloyd and Knight, a reporter and photojournalist respectively, have sought to articulate the indictment against Milosevic through their own words, eyewitness reports and pictures, categorising their collaboration as the legal document itself into Exhibit A Deportation (Count 1), Exhibition B Persecution (Count 4) and Exhibit C Murder (Count 2). In his essay, Lloyd emphasises how like anyone with first-hand experience of Kosovo his recollections of the atrocities are more scatter gun than the organised grading of war crimes by officialdom. He believes that in seeking to convey the truth: “photographs can often succeed where words fail” – they strip bare the anaesthetic legal jargon and show the messy horror and realities of war.
This pared down approach is reflected in the presentation of Gary Knight’s black and white photographs: reproduced the size of snapshots on matt white paper with factual captions kept separately at the back of each section. The content is left to speak for itself: they record refugee camps, the deflated carcass of a demolished Mosque, relatives digging up the dead and grief-stricken faces. Occasionally these images are interspersed with official looking studies and at the back, the recorded testimonies of eyewitnesses, the official text of the indictment itself and the lists of the dead.
Max Khandola’s book, Impressions of Life, is very much an art publication – a limited edition, to accompany an exhibited body of work. It contains explanatory essays but the design emphasises the primary importance of his colour images, reproducing them either full-bleed on the page or framed by white, the simple captions “Untitled I (Forehead/Hair)” coming from the neutrality of the gallery, rather than reportage. Khandola mixes his styles: abstracted, painterly compositions of the debris of illness: seepages of blood and urine, stained white sheets, hair and cremated remains – engage us initially on a purely aesthetic level. They draw the viewer in despite themselves. However, in its attempt to portray the reality of death, Khandola also includes more obviously straight documentary images, including a series of uncomfortably close encounters with his sick father’s declining and finally lifeless body, his eyes growing dim at the very moment of death.
Neither book makes for easy reading – both dealing with death in very frank though different ways. Evidence is an unremitting polemic that tells its story straight in traditional black and white reportage photographs. No games are played: the simple design that echoes the appearance of official documents emphasises the context in which Knight & Lloyd wish this photography to be seen, as direct evidence, untainted by official jargon, of the war crimes in Kosovo as they experienced them on the ground. In contrast, Khandola’s gentler approach with its painterly colour images, both straight reportage and ambiguously abstract is that of art photography, created with the walls of a gallery in mind. He seeks to record the death of his father, and in so doing create a memorial to his memory. His unflinching eye bring us uncomfortably close to this experience, but the photographer does not direct the viewer in their response – the way in which we choose to view the images is left ambiguous.