WIIGF? Exhibition at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath

On Veterans Day 2012, the MFAH debuts an unprecedented exhibition exploring the experience of war through the eyes of photographers. The exhibition gathers together nearly 500 objects, including photographs, books, magazines, albums, and photographic equipment.
Images recorded by more than 280 photographers, from 28 nations, span 6 continents and more than 165 years, from the Mexican-American War in the mid-1800s to present-day conflicts. Iconic photographs as well as previously unknown images are featured, taken by military photographers, commercial photographers (portrait and photojournalist), amateurs, and artists.
The exhibition examines the relationship between war and photography, exploring the types of photographs created during wartime, as well as by whom and for whom. Rather than being organized chronologically, or as a survey of ‘greatest hits,’ the images are arranged to show the progression of war: from the acts that instigate armed conflict to ‘the fight,’ to victory and defeat, and photos that memorialize a war, its combatants, and its victims. Portraits of servicemen, military and political leaders, and civilians are a consistent presence.
Accompanying the show is a 600-page illustrated catalogue featuring interviews and essays by curators, scholars, and military historians. After the Houston premiere, WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY travels to the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles; the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; and the Brooklyn Museum.

[From the MFAH web site]

The exhibition, assembled by the MFAH photography team–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–opens November 11 and runs until February 3.

I was alerted to this exhibition by an electronic news release from FotoFest which points out that MFAH has both the major show and two auxiliary shows, and there’s a fourth at Houston Center for Photography (Soldier, At Ease, featuring Louie Palu, Erin Trieb, and the late Tim Hetherington; link to HCP web site). 

Plus, the museum is hosting a massive signing event in conjunction with the opening and the exhibition catalogue; some two dozen photographers, curators, and writers will be at MFAH on Saturday 11/10 to sign both the museum tome and their own publications.

Humans have an appetite for war that photography feeds. At best, collecting images in this omnibus fashion should incite protest and heighten our awareness of enduring injustice in the constant default to violence implied by war. What is war photography good for, if not this, if not to serve as a mnemonic compendium of our most abject failing as humans? Don’t the most conscientious war photographers wish themselves out of a job? 

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