The Shot that Nearly Killed Me- Reading Response

In the Guardian article The Shot that Nearly Killed Me various well-known war photographers discuss some of their more famous and shocking photographs. The Photographers profiled chose images ranging from the siege of Sarajevo, war in the Congo, and in Afghanistan. Each photographer reflects on the difficulty of documenting war and the toll that can take on one’s psyche.

Photographer Alvaro Ybarra Zavala discusses a disturbing picture he made in the Congo in 2008. The picture is of a soldier with a knife in his mouth holding a hand that had been cut form someone’s body. Zavala discusses the fact that he wasn’t aware in the moment the danger he was in and just tried to act like he was a part of this crazy celebration of soldiers, and took the picture. He said he hates the photograph, as it shows the worst face of humankind, and still makes him feel frightened to this day. Like any photojournalist Zavara says he sometimes questions why he does what he does, and the answer is to show the best and worst of humankind and to provide documentation so future generations don’t repeat the mistakes of the past or forget.

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On the Making of Shoah: Lanzmann

Between watching the powerful scene from the documentary of the barber discussing his experience in during the war and in the death camps, and finding himself at a loss for words as he is overcome with the pain of remembering some of the horrors he saw while a young barber at the death camps, to reading the article of the context and background of why Claude Lanzmann decided to make the documentary, it is a powerful tribute to the importance of documentaries, especially for horrific events like the Holocaust.

As we discussed in class, the power of memory is something we cannot begin to explain, but while documentaries and remembering, especially when so much of history, like the the tragedies of the holocaust we destroyed, avoided, and even to this day, hidden, it is important to recognize how powerful the mind is. Perspective and stories are all up for relevance. The experiences of two people during the same event could be completely different, and while that is not a strike against either, critical thinking is so important.

The part of the article from The New Yorker that stood out to me the most was the part where they discuss the starting point and approach to the creation of this 9 and half hour documentary.

““Shoah” was not Lanzmann’s idea. It was commissioned, in 1973, by Alouph Hareven, a friend of Lanzmann’s in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who, having seen “Israel, Why,” suggested that Lanzmann make a film about the Holocaust from “the viewpoint of the Jews,” a film that is not “about the Shoah, but a film that is the Shoah.” Lanzmann spent a year doing research on a subject that he thought he knew about “innately.” He discovered, from reading books, watching films, and talking with survivors, that

what was most important was missing: the gas chambers, death in the gas chambers, from which no one had returned to report. The day I realized that this was what was missing, I knew that the subject of the film would be death itself, death rather than survival, a radical contradiction since in a sense it attested to the impossibility of the project I was embarking on: the dead could not speak for the dead. . . . My film would have to take up the ultimate challenge; take the place of the non-existent images of death in the gas chambers.” (The New Yorker)

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Before this class began, I had little to no knowledge about war photographers. As we studied it in this class and I did my research it did become apparent of this cowboy natured rugged male role that war photographers were envisioned to be. It was refreshing to read the article by Melanie Abrams, From the Fringes to the Frontline, and the article in The Guardian, Women War Photographers Capture Conflict. Just as women in the military increase, there is also a growth in women photographers dealing with conflict.

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Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua, 1978-79

   The main issue that prevents women from becoming sought out conflict photographers is the assumption that they don’t have what it takes to put their life on the line, wait for the right moment no matter what it takes, or have the same instincts as men do. What some female photographers such as Jenny Matthews and Susan Meiselas would do is use these assumptions to their advantage. Women are less threatening and can, therefore, be let into situations that men may not be able to access. Therefore getting a fuller story and exposing more than a man may be able to.

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Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua, 1978-79

   Meiselas also points out that she is criticized as a woman for letting her emotions get in the way of capturing the full story. This she disagrees with, and I am on her side. In the Guardians short article, they include a decent collection of Meiselas’s work during the Nicaragua civil war in the 1970’s. In these photographs, she is not capturing anything less than what Chris Hondros or Tim Hetherington brought to the table. Her work may be even stronger than theirs and goes completely unnoticed to many. There is in no way a sense that her emotions or her frankly being a woman makes any difference.

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Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua, 1978-79

Taryn Simon ‘An Occupation of Loss’: The New Yorker

‘An Occupation of Loss’ was the first performance piece done by artist Taryn Simon, as her usual media consists of the use of photography and text. She created 11 concrete towers, alongside OMA architect Shohei Shigematsu, that are meant to resemble the pipes of an organ piano. The performance piece is titled ‘An impossibility of knowing what’s actually going to happen’, where performer sit within the cement towers and perform dirges, songs and various forms of weeping/whaling. The purpose of the professional mourners is meant to help Americans confront and deal with the idea of mourning as well as loss. It’s also another way for Americans to see how other cultures deal with the same subject.

The article comments on how mourning is implied in our culture, and that it is meant to be a more private and concealed matter. Those who express their pain emotionally in public settings become causes for concern and make others uncomfortable. At the same time, Simon not only breaks these stereotypes with her work, she allows a kind of openness to express loss and mourning. Simon also shows us how mourning can take multiple forms, by the variance of performances that takes place within the towers. One performer expressed their mourning by slapping their chest and knees, sobbing and waling within their designated pillar, while another from Ecuador plays an sound that is festive and speaks of the dead.

The space begins to create a contrast between the living and the dead, and presents a kind of sanctuary or idea of one for those who feel ashamed or judged by their ongoing need to mourn, or lack of being able to express it. For me the piece speaks to diversity of culture, as well as religion and reminds Americans how impactful death is and how we as a society react to the overall idea of it, especially those of us who are unfamiliar with it.

“An Occupation of Loss,” Taryn Simon’s performance piece at the Park Avenue Armory, draws on themes of government bureaucracy and social realism.

Source:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/taryn-simons-varieties-of-mourning

Taryn Simons: An Occupation of Loss

Taryn Simons typical media of work usually deals with both text and photography, but in this piece An Occupation of Loss, she makes an installation that’s meant to be a performance piece.  This installation she did was done alongside Shohei Shigematsu at the Office of Metropolitan Architecture.  They were able to get thirty different mourners from fifteen different countries to sit in the semi circle of eleven concrete towers at the Park Avenue Armory.  The towers recall the pipes of an organ, where visitors who enter the are exposed to a live performance activating the “dirges, songs, and weeping of the professionals within.”

This piece ties into the themes of government bureaucracy and social realism, where Taryn Simons would bring in these thirty different people from fifteen different countries all to New York City.  One of the hardest aspects about this project for her was all of the documentation paperwork she had to go through of getting these people visas, which she said ended up being more than a foot high tall of papers.  “The documentation of the visa process serves as a shadow accompaniment to the show, both a reminder of the administration that often accompanies death, and Simon said of authority and how it’s establish and the systems that we create and also adhere to, to organize ourselves.”  In the performance each mourner had their own individual style of mourning that they brought to portray to the audience what mourning is like in different cultures from the rituals themselves to what clothing they wear too.

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Taryn Simon’s Varieties of Mourning.  http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/taryn-simons-varieties-of-mourning (Accessed April 29, 2017)

Necessary Violence: The Rectification of Goya by the Chapman Brothers

When the prints of the Chapman brothers series Insult to Injury made their first appearance in 2003 they were immediately met with skepticism. While some critics praised the brothers as the ultimate humanists, others dismissed their work as an insult to an old masters series. The series itself takes the prints from Francisco de Goya’s Disasters of War portfolio and superimposes images of puppies and clowns onto the victims. While the work appears insensitive in nature, there is a deeper more psychological reaction to the pain seen in these distorted bodies.

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By drawing a clown’s face onto the body of a suffering victim, there is a strange collision of humor and violence. The clown is a symbol for the tortured individual that displays their pain in front of an audience. This combination of the clown and the horrors of war etched by Goya, create a new dialogue about modern warfare.

” And that is the very vehicle of the grotesque–the intersection of high and low, humor and horror–to collapse that which critics would dismiss as mere vandalism and silliness even as it fixes our gaze. Drawing over Goya’s print was the only kind of violence, perhaps, that the art community could still feel, could still register as being very personal. Because this aesthetic naturally resists closure, the viewer is denied the catharsis expected in our queasy relationship with the humanities.”

While I still feel that the Chapman brother’s twist on the Disasters of War portfolio is unappealing visually and doesn’t accurately convey the brutalities of war. Personally the cartoon faces are a distraction to the rest of the piece and don’t allow me to even consider their context in the image as a whole. While I understand now how they do provide a lack of closure that we expect from images about war, they still create too much of a diversion for me. I appreciate the way the Insult to Injury series creates a new dialogue about the very nature of violence and the grotesque, but I still feel that the images chosen to deface the works with draw too many allusions to vandalism to be considered in any other context.

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