The current rise of Instagram over Facebook has enamoured me to some wonderful documentary photographers. Accounts such as everydayasia – in fact, all the everyday accounts – as well as members of the Australian documentary photography collective Oculi, in particular Afghanistan-based Andrew Quilty and Dean Sewell, show that a photograph can be just as powerful as a film.
Today I visited the Tate Modern to see the Conflict, Time, Photography exhibition. The exhibition depicts various post-conflict time periods; for example, Japanese landscape seconds after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with a time-lapse of decades. Kuwaiti desert is shown several months after the end of the Gulf war with photographs of scenery up close and from a great distance to completely destroy any sense of scale that we might have had. The famous Nicaraguan Molotov Man is shown in action, juxtaposed with a video of 21st-century Nicaraguan civilians describing how the conflict still affects them today.
Conflicts from Angola to the Ukraine to Vietnam are depicted. Whilst always visually striking, it is not always immediately obvious that those people and places in the photographs are conflict victims. Some places are unrecognizable from how they look today, Berlin and Dresden being the most obvious examples.
It is interesting that the longer the time-lapse between the conflict and the photograph, the bleaker the landscape; it is as if countries’ battle scars never fade over time; only grow. Of particular note are those images concerning humans, much more affecting than some of the “mediocre images that follow” (Cumming). One whole wall is devoted to car bombings in Beirut. Photographs of the only part that remains – the engine – after various bombings contain men rushing to the scene to help those who are injured and to mourn those who are dead. These are the most compelling images and the ones that tell the greatest stories.
Conflict, Time, Photography is on at the Tate Modern, London SE1 until March 15th 2015.