Kevin Bubriski, Untitled, from the series Pilgrimage: Looking at Ground Zero, 2001. Courtesy of the artist.
On the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the traumas of that day continue to be felt; that pain is now augmented by the human costs of the ensuing decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. HomeFrontLine: Reflections on Ten Years of War Since 9/11 presents the work of photographers who have sought to address the experience of war and its aftermath for survivors, even as the conflicts continue. This exhibition, which Ellen Fleurov and I have curated together for the Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh (where she is the executive director), is an effort to provide a space in which to contemplate the costs of and transformations shaped by these last ten years of war.
Benjamin Lowy, Untitled, from the series Iraq|Perspectives I, 2003-2008. Courtesy of the artist.
Gabriela Bulisova, Untitled, 2010, from the series Option of Last Resort: Iraqi Refugees in the United States. Courtesy of the artist.
“Only the dead have seen the end of war,” wrote George Santayana in his soliloquy “Tipperary,” on the occasion of the Armistice of the First World War – “The War to End All Wars”. More than 6000 coalition soldiers have died in recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the total number of deaths attributed to violence in these countries is estimated at 225,000. Ten years of war and counting and life without war becomes harder to remember, harder to imagine.
Ashley Gilbertson, The bedroom of Army Private First Class Nils G. Thompson, 19, in Confluence, PA.
Thompson was killed August, 4, 2005 by a sniper in Mosul, Iraq, from the series Bedrooms of the Fallen,
September 2007. Courtesy of the artist and VII Network.
The proximate possibility of death or injury and the sense that war does not end, that it follows individuals home and that it not only permeates the frontline, but also invades the homefront, speak to the burden borne by soldiers, participants and bystanders. Claire Beckett’s portraits of recruits on the edge of adulthood, transformed from civilians to soldiers, implies the risks that these young people have volunteered to take on even as they are portrayed in an idyllic forest training camp. Ash Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen pays tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives, their empty bedrooms a testament to their individuality and their absence. Eugene Richards’ War is Personal presents a series of moving stories of veterans and their families, their lives transformed by war, and their varied responses; the frontline is no longer a geographical position for these individuals, but a condition of existence. The wars rage on in the difficult everyday circumstances of its survivors, and of the survivors of the dead.
Claire Beckett, Private Rebecca Hill at Basic Training, Fort Jackson, SC, 2006, from the series In Training.
Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons.
Eugene Richards, Tomas Young/Age 26/Kansas City, Missouri, from War is Personal: A
Chronicle of the Human Consequences of the Iraq War, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.
On the frontline, often someone else’s homefront: Benjamin Lowy’s views of Baghdad through the windows of a Humvee are a multiple portrait that include the landscape without and the soldier within, and succinctly describe an unbridgeable distance between these two subjects. At night, out of the vehicles, seen through night vision equipment, this distance transforms into a terrifying dialogue of fear, perhaps the only thing shared by both the soldiers and the civilians they are searching. Michael Kamber’s commentary in Military Censorship, a video produced by BagNewsNotes about his experiences as an embedded journalist addresses the process through which the images that we see come to be; Peter van Agtmael’s 2nd Tour, Hope I Don’t Die deals, through the words of Michael Herr, author of the Vietnam-era classic Dispatches, with the fascination that people have with images of war: “You see what you want to see. You see it the way you want to see it.”
Michael Kamber, Soldiers on patrol in Iraq, 2008. Courtesy of the artist.
War informs the ongoing processes of social transformations that take place on the homefront, including American, Iraqi and Afghan homelands, both physical and psychological. Nina Berman’s imagery describes the dissonance between the reality of war and the social assumptions that endorse it, while Baptiste Giroudon’s portraits of Afghans amidst an election process explore the specificity of that historical moment, a troubled election that nonetheless represented an important step on the path to popular representation in Afghanistan. Kevin Bubriski’s photographs describe the emotional response of visitors to Ground Zero in New York as they witness firsthand the violence done to the city and its people. Gabriela Bulisova’s photographs of Iraqis seeking asylum in the United States, unable to live in Iraq after having aided the US military, are accompanied by the testimonies of her subjects. The narratives of the Afghans who had been released from Guantanamo without being charged, photographed by Alfonso Moral, mirror the archive of their stories brought to light by the Wikileaks release of Guantanamo records.
Nina Berman, Terrorists Attack Midway Airport, “TOPOFF2” Homeland Security
Exercise, Chicago, Illinois, 2003, from the series Homeland. Courtesy of the artist and
Jen Bekman Gallery.
Peter van Agtmael, A helicopter comes to land on an impromptu helipad built into the
ide of the mountain at the outpost of Aranas, Nuristan, Afghanistan, 2007. Courtesy of the
artist and Magnum Photos.
Alfonso Moral, Saidamir Morzan, 29 years old. 5½ years in Guantanamo. Prisoner
Number 945, from the series Freed – Faces of Guantanamo, 2008. Courtesy of the artist
and Pandora Fotografia.
Peter van Agtmael, Graffiti written by soldiers on the walls of bathroom stalls,
from the series War Graffiti. Courtesy of the artist and Magnum Photos.
Santayana’s words were quoted by an American soldier in a bathroom in a military base, as seen in a 2007 photograph by Peter van Agtmael. Van Agtmael’s photograph, part of his series of pictures of soldiers’ graffiti in Kuwait and Iraq, presents a complex dialogue that manages to address the contradictions of war, recognizing several individuals’ different experiences and perspectives even as the authors of the graffiti are anonymous. Without showing us a single human being, it is very much about what soldiers feel. But where Santayana took the philosophical long view at the end of a period of fighting, the soldier’s lament is made in the midst of the Iraq War and speaks to the fear – and very real possibility- that he himself may lose his life before his war comes to a close.
Baptiste Giroudon, Afghan woman, searching bags at the entrance of a school used as a
polling station for women, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 2009, from the series Portraits of
Democracy. Courtesy of the artist.
The power of the images in this exhibit is in their ability to find a throughline from the photographer to the audience, to create a psychological, emotional, or social space that the viewer can access. These are all self-initiated projects, with varying relationships to what might be called “war photography”, and certainly at a distance from reportage as contextualized in daily news reports. They are complex, often intimate dialogues between the photographer and the subjects’ positions, often using the subjects’ own words. I’m honored to have the opportunity to bring these photographers’ works together and grateful for their generosity in allowing us to do so.
HomeFrontLine: Reflections on Ten Years of War Since 9/11
September 13- December 10, 2011
Opening Reception September 11, 2011 3-6pm
1015 East Carson St.
Pittsburgh PA 15203
Photography by Claire Beckett, Nina Berman, Kevin Bubriski, Gabriela Bulisova, Ashley Gilbertson, Baptiste Giroudon, Michael Kamber, Benjamin Lowy, Alfonso Moral, Eugene Richards, and Peter van Agtmael. Curated by Ellen Fleurov and Leo Hsu.