Luc Delahaye, further thoughts

Posted on by Ben Hodson


In understanding my practice as someone who uses photography and video, I have had to ask questions such as where does documentary end and art begin? This question seemed easy to answer several years ago, but now I find myself dipping into these two distinct areas in different ways.  Artists such as Luc Delahaye blur the distinctions further (it is worth noting his work is one of my personal favourites). “Delahaye's big pictures ask more questions than they answer about the increasingly blurred line between reportage and art, the importance of scale, and the tangible sense of detachment that characterises a certain strand of contemporary photography.” Sean O'Hagan, Tuesday 9 August 2011 09.00 BST

The Deutch Borse prize winner is a photojournalist and artist. His large format   works blur the lines between reportage and fine art. I find both how he has been accepted in the art world and the scale of his work interesting. Delahaye has long crossed the line between photojournalist and artist. The scale at which his prints are reproduced and the high quality result that he obtains from the medium/large format photography gives the viewer a reaction which is more profound then the usual journalistic image. His work makes me start to question the nature and genre of my own work.  


Artist: Thomas Hirschhorn

Posted on by Ben Hodson


As I look at war artists, I have come across the passionate work by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn.  This peice here was shown in the Tate Modern is a politically charged sculpture which comments on the challenges and fragility of everything surrounding the Iraq conflict.

Hirschhorn creates monumental works from the basest of materials. Cardboard, foil, paper and plastic are bound together with tape, in an apparently casual fashion, to form works that are all the more powerful for their obvious instability. In Drift Topography, a ring of US soldiers surround and stand guard over a densely built-up, fenced-in territory. The soldiers themselves, and the weapons they brandish, are larger than life-sized cardboard cutouts. The landscape they guard is equally unstable – a city built from boxes, card, cotton wool and aluminum foil. Vast quantities of generic brown packing-tape hold the whole structure together. Political and historically significant books line the makeshift streets, alongside rows of plastic petrol cans. Paper billboards bear Arabic script enlarged from newspapers, and the bold text of truncated headlines – ‘war’, ‘power’, ‘humanitarian’, ‘globalization’ – are plastered over every surface, echoing the overuse of such terms by the press to the extent of virtual meaninglessness. Over it all, gigantic mushrooms rise out of the centre of the system, evoking nuclear clouds as much as thriving mutant fungi. Accessed May 2012

Artist: Jeremy Deller

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As a large amount of my research is concentrating on Iraq, war and artist intervention I was recomended to look at the artist Jeremy Deller.

In particular I have been looking at a project of his called: It is What It Is: Conversations about Iraq.  The project attempted to create a dialogue around Iraq a s a subject.  Jeremy toured with a number of objects including a bombed out car (Video below).

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Exhibition Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan

Posted on by Ben Hodson

I went to visit the recent exhibition by photographer Simon Norfolk.  The work is presented as a collaboration between the artist and a 19th century artist John Burke.  This "collaboration" presents both Burkes orignal works alongside Norfolk's contemporary work.

Quote from Tate website:

"Norfolk’s photographs reimagine or respond to Burke’s Afghan war scenes in the context of the contemporary conflict."

I found this interesting juxtaposition of new and old engaging.  Especially as I have been looking at some of the early context of photography and its relationship to overseas travel.  Also it plays into my research based around the ideas of photography and its role in war and social change.

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Posted on by Ben Hodson

“Guernica” Pablo Picasso 1937 Oil on Canvas

My research of other historical and contemporary artists has centered on specific individuals who attempted to use visual art to bring about positive change.  When looking into visual artists who had a big influence on society, it is impossible to ignore the influence of Pablo Picasso.  Specifically in his painting “Guernica” the artist intended to draw attention to the atrocities of war, in particular the aerial bombardment of the Spanish village of Guernica.   

The Spanish rulers commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Paris International exposition, as part of the world fair in Paris 1937.  He had already begun work on this commission when the bombing took place.  He scrapped his original work and began to create this provocative monochromatic image.  It was heralded as the painting which allowed the world to awaken to the horrible events of the Spanish civil war.  As an anti-war symbol it was particularly successful in catching the public’s attention.  This was to do with the new style of aerial bombardment that the German Luftwaffe squadron employed.  The world was becoming aware of the inevitable breakout of European war and this was the first time the devastating potential of this new style of warfare was seen. 

Picasso never fully explained the work or associated symbolism.  There are a number of conflicting theories which surround the work and what it has contributed to change in world history.  It is therefore hard to determine or quantify exactly what impact the work has had.    It is clear that this is one of the most famous pieces of art in the world and it appears to have galvinised public opinion against the ideologies of war, both past and present.  

Artist: Steve McQueen

Posted on by Ben Hodson

Roger Bacon, the father of Major Mathew Bacon (not depicted) who was killed in Iraq in 2005 looks a piece of artwork entitled 'Queen and Country' at the National Portrait Gallery on March 18, 2010 in London, England.

This investigation has primarily been focused on artists who have tried to influence policy, public opinion or the government.  To bring some balance, it is worth looking at the opposite side of this.  There are numerous times when the “state” commissions artists to create work to support, promote and even carry out its intentions and purposes.  This is most evident in intentional propaganda but can be seen in other ways.  The British government commissions an artist for every war where there is British involvement. For the current war in Iraq the official war artist is Steve McQueen.  He is currently one of Britain’s foremost artists, including recently representing Britain in the 2009 Venice Bienale.  For the Iraq commission McQueen decided to move away from film as a medium.  He decided to make stamps using the faces of the soldiers who have been lost in the war.  He managed to gain full support from the soldiers' families and created the stamps with the aim to have them on sale for the public to use as legal stamps.  The government and Royal Mail have so far refused to make this happen.  It appears to be slightly ironic; the state commissioned an artist to give an official creative response to the war and then censored the artist's intentions to protect their own interests. There have been many forms of propaganda. Even the war images I looked at previously were used as propaganda by communist governments.  It is a huge subject in itself, which I will not fully engage with.  

Writer: Susan Sontag & war photography

Posted on by Ben Hodson

War photography is clearly something that draws the public’s attention to the reality of the world around them.  The writer Susan Sontag suggests that there is now “ war without photography” (Susan Sontag 1977).  As Sontag compared photography to previous forms of art, she suggested that along with the invention of photography came a greater level of “sanctity” to the imagery.  The images were suddenly connected closely to truth.  In terms of documenting war it was now no longer created by the imagination of the artist such as in Goya's Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War).  My initial assumption was that we could see in a direct and quantifiable way the dramatic effect of a single photograph on the course of a war. 

After exploring two of the most likely images to fit this description from the Vietnam War, this assumption appears not to be totally correct.  I found that there are too many other factors which contributed to these changes.  I would therefore suggest that an image can contribute to a change in the course of human history. However, it cannot solely cause a dramatic permutation without other major factors influencing this change.  The problem with this research is that it mainly comes from secondary sources and it remains impossible to find recorded text which is objective.  War, (especially where the USA or the UK are involved), has the tendency to produce strong opinions.  Not being alive at the time of the Vietnam War has made it hard to know how well the history books had recorded all the information that would be relevant for my line of enquiry.  

Research: Vietnam war photography

Posted on by Ben Hodson

The Soviet Union dictator Stalin argued that “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”(Joseph Stalin)  Although I do not agree with the statement or the man, in reality we find that we need to identify with the individual in the suffering before it really hits home.  There had already been hundreds of images of the death and destruction come back from the Vietnam conflict, why were Nick Ut’s and Eddie Adam’s images so powerful, so unique?  I believe it is because the individual suffering of the Vietcong soldier and the young children from Trang Bang village is something any human or parent could identify with.  These images show the worst aspects of war and awaken us to the unbelievable sinful nature of mankind.

Eddie Adams' photo may have been more influential in starting the move towards a public majority set against the occupation of Vietnam.  The image depicts the exact moment a bullet entered the skull of the Vietcong prisoner, what it didn't show was the fact that the man had just killed a number of American soldiers.  A specific still image is incredibly powerful, especially as it freezes a brief moment, which can easily be taken out of context.  In Time magazine July 1998, Eddie Adams wrote; “Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths...” (Eddie Adams, 1998).  Adams believed that although the general was the one who had killed the Vietcong soldier, he said that he had killed the general with his camera. The image certainly rallied support for the anti-war movement, but the evidence is not conclusive that the image solely accomplished anything.

Although this area of art or more specifically photography does demonstrate some tangible change in the world.  It is not an area I want to concentrate my research on.  Due to the content of my Iraq work, it is relevant to look at other wars.

Artist: Ernst Friedrich

Posted on by Ben Hodson

The German pacifist and anti war champion Ernst Friedrich created a book; “Krieg dem Kriege!” (War Against War!).  This book used shock tactics to reveal the atrocities of war to the masses.  Over one hundred and eighty images were primarily drawn from German medical and military archives from the First World War were combined in a published book.  The book starts by showing military based toys, such as toy soldiers, toy cannons and other war games for boys.  The book goes on to show some truly shocking and gruesome images even by todays desensitised standards.  This includes carefully positioned sets of diptychs.  This includes on one side an image of the heroic march off to war and on the other side an image from a mass grave from one of the battles.  It simply has the words; “Enthusiastic...for what? and on the opposing side ...for the field of honour.”(Ernst Friedrich, 1928) in four languages.  Friedrich's book had an incredible influence on “educated” society, however, he was imprisoned a number of times by the Nazi's which made continued production of works difficult.