Marking the centenary of the First World War, Tate Modern opened its doors to Conflict, Time, Photography. The major group photography exhibition considers passage of time and different perspectives brought by different photographers to the sites they have depicted. The exhibition is a tribute to the words of Louis-Ferdinand Céline: “let us make it our business to record the worst of human viciousness without changing one word”.
Walking through Tate Modern, Britain's national gallery of international modern art, I am always struck by a feeling of insignificance. When I walked through the doors of the Conflict, Time, Photography exhibition, insignificance soon turned into unassuming gratitude. Gratitude not only that I have been born in a part of the world where we have, in our time, been sheltered from the atrocities of war but also gratitude to the photographers, who risked their lives in order to tell this story. Like Adam Broomberg’s The Day Nobody Died (2008) considers how the method of wartime correspondence has changed, the exhibition raises questions about how the perspective and narrative of photography has changed over the past century. Walking through the exhibition it becomes clear how the focal point of much of modern photography is to stun. To shock.
Offering an alternative to the all too familiar face of war reportage and photojournalism, something we are increasingly becoming deaf to, the astounding amount of photographs all reflecting the impact of war and conflict were hard to ignore. The exhibition is experienced backwards, covering images captured a few moments after an event has occurred to 100 years after. Rather than follow a fixed timeline, the works are ordered according to how long after a given event they were taken. This creates a unique opportunity for the viewer to consider and compare the impact of war and conflict without being constrained by time and space. The effect of the exhibition depends entirely on the perspectives of those capturing the moments and the way in which they have been portrayed. The idea is to be able to look back in time, “considering the past without becoming frozen in the process”.
Conflict, Time, Photography demonstrates the effect on both the people and the places, which subsist in the shadow of a trauma. Unstuck and hunting the exhibition, shifting from one moment in history to another, deals with both the aftermath of immediate human trauma as portrayed by Don McCullin’s Shell-shocked US Marine (1968), as well as the undeniable terrestrial effect. Each piece is unique, capturing the perspective of each individual artist. Luc Delahaye’s Ambush, Ramadi (2006), portrays a city engulfed in a haze of smoke, giving an eerie sense of calm and making the viewer almost forget the human impact. Sophie Ristelhueber’s Fait (1992) captured in large, stunning pieces shows the wounds inflicted on Kuwait desert landscape. The overpowering effect war has on high and low is evident in Simon Norfolk’s Afghanistan: Chronotopia (2001-2002), which sets out to record ruins after decades of fighting against the backdrop of striking desert land. These photographs all tell the same story. They bear witness to destruction and devastation, simultaneously probing an exploration of the human cost of conflict.
Conflict, Time, photography is an immersive, thought-provoking and highly emotional group exhibition documenting some of the darkest and most haunting of human atrocities but also one, which shows extraordinary strength in ordinary people. Stephen Shore’s chronicle of the lives of holocaust survivors in Ukraine (2012-2013) is both a touching tribute to survivors of war, near and far, and a reminder that even from the darkest of places good things can emerge.
The exhibition, which was curated by Simon Baker with Shoair Mavlian and David Mellor, is open to the public from 26 November 2014 – 15 March 2015.