Conflict, Time, Photography at Tate Modern
Conflict, Time, Photography is being mounted at the Tate to coincide with the centenary of World War One, and presents an alternative impression of war photography. This is not an exhibition full of images depicting the immediate brutal and often gruesome nature of combat; instead, this major group exhibition is one in which artists have used their cameras as devices through which to comprehend the horrors of war. Their images are more than strict reportage: through diverse use of the medium they honour and memorialise these atrocious events so that we can understand and never forget.
This is an exhibition about time and memory. Instead of a chronological depiction of conflict around the world, it shows perspectives from across the modern era. From images by Toshio Fukada depicting The Mushroom Cloud above Hiroshima a mere 20 minutes after the explosion in 1945, to those taken by Chloe Dewe Mathews 99 years after World War One, this exhibition reminds us that while the conflict ends, the scars live on.
Many of the images lack physical human presence, and so possess a still eeriness. There is a weight in the images of devastated buildings and empty landscapes that depicts more pain than if they had contained human figures. There is such resonance that one can’t help but lose onself in sombre contemplation of the acts that might have passed. This eerie beauty is most poignant in the photographic series that ends the exhibition: Shot at Dawn 2013, by Chloe Dewe Mathews, which depicts empty scenes where Allied soldiers were shot for desertion 99 years ago. The scenes are seemingly unremarkable – a grassy country path, a snow-draped wood – but all unnerving in their stillness, and reverberating with a power that articulates a history of violence and bloodshed.
Meaning is brought back to spaces, and memory of forgotten conflicts re-ignited. What this exhibition does is confront our difficult relationship with our violent past and present. This is an exhibition that takes you from World War One through to Vietnam and Iraq. It forces you to face the abject nature of war and see the lasting scars of conflict left upon people and the landscape. It is elegiac, it is powerful, and it is a haunting representation of our past.
Photos: Rosie Yang
Conflict, Time, Photography is at Tate Modern until 15th March 2015, for further information visit here.