I went to Tate Modern in London this week to see the Conflict, Time, Photography exhibition that started there on Tuesday. For me, it was a powerful experience. The photographs were organised, in a clever and sophisticated way by time after the actual war events. The first few images, such as of the mushroom cloud at Hiroshima taken at the time start the show. Then, as you progress through the exhibition space, the images move across weeks, months and years in separation from the specific event. The final images of the show are from the work of Chloe Dewe Matthews, (whose work I often admire) of the soldiers shot at dawn for desertion during the First World War.
The last image of the show, a beautiful dawn landscape in Vosges by Matthews, is a particularly poignant and unsettling take home message. The thoughts that ran through my mind me ‘what a beautiful place to die’ but also ‘what an awful way to die’.
As I drove home from the exhibition I felt strong feelings of sadness about the things that we have done, currently do, and will continue to do in the future to each other. The exhibition worked for me as it was very emotional, rather than intellectual or graphic in it’s presentation. A lot of the work felt very raw, disturbing and unsettling in it’s emotional intensity.
The work by Asian photographers Araki, Tomatsu and Tsuchida were particularly strong. Hiromi Tsuchida’s work Hiroshima Collection 1982-1995 was very touching. His work consisted of black and white photographs of items, such as a watch or a child’s jacket. There was a short story presented with the image, such as the child’s jacket being found in a tree by the family – but that the child was not seen again. The personal nature the items, the missing person, and the family connections gave a depth to the images and made me reflect on the situations that befell these people, and maybe try to imagine the terror that might they might have experienced (if they had time to think before they were killed).
One over aspect of the exhibition that impressed me, beyond how well it was put together using the structure of time, was the sheer level of creativity that people used to express their views on the experiences of war. For example, one person took a series of images of families and combined them as a ‘family tree’ during the Bosnian-Serb war in the 1990s. Some images only showed teeth or bone fragments, whilst others remained blank. The overall effect was shocking and deeply sad in the level of decimation that was inflicted on family relationships.
Personally, I felt that the images which were removed from the immediate scene of the action, such as Araki’s 2010 photographs of the sky ‘during’ the nine days in August between the first and second nuclear bombs dropped on Japan made me attempt to imagine the sky on the two days of importance, and more importantly what people might have experienced and felt. The works that gave a space to think, reflect and empathise were the strongest for me.
The exhibition runs to March 2015, I would certainly recommend a visit if you are passing by the Tate Modern Gallery in London.