Exhibition Review: Conflict, Time, Photography

Taking a new perspective on the exhibitions celebrating the centenary of the first world war, Conflict, Time, Photography at Tate Modern is definitely worth a visit if you have not done so already.

The exhibition has a themed layout that instead of taking you through a chronologically curated display of war photography, each gallery has images taken in different category time periods since the conflict took place. The first gallery that you enter in to has images taken “Moments After” including Don McCullin’s ‘Shell Shocked US Marine’ in Vietnam.

© Don McCullin, ‘Shell Shocked US Marine’, Vietnam, Hue 1968

You then continue through to a second room which contains Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s unique C-type print titled ‘The Press Conference’ from the project ‘The Day That Nobody Died’. For this piece of work, Broomberg and Chanarin took part in a performative act of resistance against the war in Afghanistan. They pretended to be photojournalists and went out as press photographers to the centre of conflict. On the first day of their visit a BBC fixer was dragged from his car and executed and nine Afghan soldiers were killed in a suicide attack. In response to the chaos surrounding them and also to a series of more mundane moments, such as a press conference, Broomberg and Chanarin, took a seven-meter section of photographic paper, unrolled it and exposed it to the sun for 20 seconds. The resulting images were controversial and incredibly powerful pieces of artwork to view. They are in a sense real witnesses to the conflict within this war zone, and completely dominate the gallery room within Tate Modern.

© Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, ‘The Press Conference’, June 9, 2008 (detail), The Day Nobody Died, 2008, Unique C-type, 762mm x 6000mm

The whole exhibition takes you on a journey through over 150 years of conflict around the world right from when photography was invented. It covers not just photojournalist documentary imagery, but also more personal, sensitive projects that evoke ideas around memory.

Continuing on to work made “Days, Weeks, Months later…” you are presented with a whole room dedicated to the large scale prints by French photographer, Sophie Ristelhueber, 1949 (7 months after the end of the First Gulf War) in a grid-layout on the wall documenting scars on the landscape.

You then follow through the rooms of “5 years later”, on to “20 years later” where you will find one of the finest photo books ever made, by Japanese photographer Kikuji Kawada, titled ‘The Map’. These incredibly detailed abstract black and white images amalgamate in this beautifully delicate handmade book. The piece documents the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima. The images are not of maps, but actually of the walls of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome, which resemble maps. The constant folding and unfolding of this piece of work allows the viewer to navigate their own path through this abstract recording of conflict.

© Kikuji Kawada, ‘The Map’, 1965

You then continue through to work made “35 years later” and “67 years later”. However, before you enter in to the final room of the exhibition, you can take a side entrance off in to a slightly hidden installation by the Archive of Modern Conflict, a London-based organisation for collecting, publishing and the making of occasional exhibitions. This room is covered floor to ceiling with newspaper articles, objects, images and documents surrounding conflict – a true gem of the exhibition!

And to finish, you are presented with Shot at Dawn, a series by the young British photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews, whose work is in response to the First World War, 99 years later. Commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford as part of 14–18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art, Chloe focused on the sites where British, French and Belgian soldiers were executed for cowardice and desertion between the years 1914-1918. The eery landscapes evoke a very moving and disturbing reaction from the viewer, as they are presented with images taken as close to the exact time of execution as possible and at approximately the same time of year. As the eye gets drawn in to these deserted landscapes, the accompanying caption information of what took place at the site depicted fresh in your mind, one cannot stop yourself imagining how these unfortunate soldiers are feeling moments before being executed by their own comrades.

© Chloe Dewe Mathews, Vebranden-Molen, West-Vlaanderen 2013

Exhibition open until 15 March 2015

The Eyal Ofer Galleries
Adult £14.50 (without donation £13.10)
Concession £12.50 (without donation £11.30)


Reviewed by Jenna Banat