"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

29 April, 2008

War Art: Official & Non-Official

Apologies for starting with a classic critical truism: the history of photojournalism is inextricably linked to the narrative of war - from Robert Capa and George Rodger to Philip Jones Griffiths, Nick Ut and beyond. (The juxtaposition of the latter's 1972 Vietnam napalm kids and his snatched sobbing Paris Hilton shot, precisely 35 years later, tells a story all of its own...).

The concept of the official war artist first became enshrined during the Great War but the depiction of warfare has concerned both artists and patrons for centuries. This weblog plans to consider war photographers and artists - both official and unofficial - on a regular basis.

The experience of warfare leaves no one unaffected and many official war artists have produced work markedly at odds with what the authorities who appointed them might have anticipated. John Keane (b.1954) hit the headlines in 1991 when he was appointed official British war artist during the Gulf War. His work is concerned with conflict - military, political and social - in Britain and around the world. The image above is from his 2006 series Guantanamerica.
Queen & Country (see the panel right) is the title of a similarly powerful and thought-provoking work by Turner Prize Winner and official war artist Steve McQueen (b.1969). Working closely with 137 families of servicemen and women who lost their lives in Iraq, McQueen has created a cabinet containing a series of facsimile postage sheets, each dedicated to a deceased soldier. The project is currently on show at London's Festival Hall (until 1st June) where visitors are being asked to sign The Art Fund's online petition, asking the Royal Mail to issue the stamps as a fitting tribute to the fallen and to fulfill the artist's original vision.