Jonathan C. Torgovnik (American, b. 1969). Valentine with her daughters Amelie and Inez, Rwanda, from the series Intended Consequences, 2006. Chromogenic print, ed. 11/25, 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of the artist. © Jonathan Torgovnik
ART REVIEW: War Photographs on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston examines the calamitous consequences of war
NEW YORK— War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath explores the experience of war and strikes a universal human chord with an unprecedented collection of photographs from around the world. Featuring approximately 400 objects, including photographic prints, books, magazines, albums, and camera equipment, War/Photography brings together both iconic and unknown images taken by members of the military, commercial portraitists, journalists, amateurs, artists, and numerous Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers.
The exhibition War/Photography includes the works of some 284 photographers from 28 nations who have covered conflicts on six continents over the last 166 years. The exhibition examines the interrelationship between war and photography; it reveals the evolution of the photographic medium as the form in which war is recorded and remembered, and explores a full range of experiences related to armed conflict—from recruitment, training, and embarkation to daily routines, the heat of battle, and the aftermath of death and destruction, homecoming and remembrance. Spanning the period of time between the Mexican-American War in 1846 through present-day conflicts, War/Photography contains rare daguerreotypes and vintage photographs, such as Roger Fenton’s iconic The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) from the Crimean War and an early print of Joe Rosenthal’s Old Glory Goes Up on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. An additional print of Old Glory that entered the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection in 1945 is also included in a section that explores the historic battle of Iwo Jima and the making of one of modern history’s most widely recognized images of war. Among the most recent images is a 2008 photograph of the Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the remote Korengal Valley of Eastern Afghanistan by Tim Hetherington. Hetherington spent time embedded with the soldiers he photographed in Afghanistan, and was later killed, in April 2011, while covering the civil war in Libya.
Rather than presenting a formal survey of wartime photographs or an encyclopedic history of modern warfare, the exhibition is organized by themes that capture the essential experiences of soldiers and civilians, evoking an international collective memory of the experience of war. The exhibition opens with a selection of photographs that signal the instigation of armed conflicts, including Robert Clark’s series of photographs of the planes hitting the World Trade Center towers, Watching the World Change, September 11th, 2001, and a daguerreotype portrait of the abolitionist John Brown, whose raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was a catalyst for the American Civil War. In addition to depicting the phases of war, there are portraits of servicemen, military and political leaders, and civilians, all a consistent presence throughout the exhibition. Photographs of children, refugees, and other civilians shaken by war are among the most poignant and arresting, including photojournalist Jonathan C. Torgovnik’s Valentine with her daughters Amelie and Inez, Rwanda, 2006, from his award-winning series and Aperture publication Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape.
War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, curatorial team of Anne Wilkes Tucker, the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography; Will Michels, photographer and Glassell School of Art instructor; and Natalie Zelt, curatorial assistant for photography. The Brooklyn presentation was organized by Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Associate Curator of Exhibitions.