Every picture of war I have ever seen, is the same. Sure, the backgrounds may differ, the weapons gradually transform from knives to machine guns to bombs, the skin color of the civilians change just as the uniforms of the soldiers do. The end of each war, just seems to mark the soon to be beginning of another. The destruction, the pain, the blood, the hate.. that’s the constant that always seems present in every image I have seen. I am interested in new ways to translate the same information, something truer then documentary photography, something more realizing, more revealing, more honest.
Last night I attended a lecture titled “The 10 Most Exciting Photographers I Have Seen in the Last Year” given by Becky Senf, who is the curator of Photography for the Phoenix Art Museum. She introduced a wide range of up and coming photographers that all are doing very different things with the medium. Of course, it probably comes as no surprise the work that lingered in my mind the longest. Benjamin Lowy is a war photographer whose series, “Iraq: Perspectives,” completely numbed me.
Now there are many aspects of this body of work that I am so inspired by, that it is possible I could write forever, however I will keep this short and to the point. Benjamin Lowy accompanied the U.S. Army in Iraq in an attempt to try and help the American people understand what Iraq is really like. Upon arrival however, he quickly realized that it was far too dangerous for him to be roaming the streets unarmed. Therefore all of his images are shoot through the bullet proof glass of a window in a military humvee.Compositionally, I love that he lets the window be the frame of the actual image. He is letting us literally, see what he is seeing, and how he is seeing it. We are getting the sense of danger and protection while also being asked to think about the actual barrier between him and his subjects, between the military and the Iraqi people. The unsuspecting expression of the people on the street, is so candid, so pure. I love that in one image you may see a Iraqi Market clad in bright colors, while in the next you see a scowling Iraqi guard holding a gun glaring forward, while the next is a beautiful scene of tall luscious grass hit by a sacred stream of light. This is Iraq unaltered, no one is performing for the camera, Lowy is choosing when he pushes the shutter down, but he isn’t controlling what’s in front of him. The photographs are raw, they are honest, and they are threatening, but there is still hope.
The affect these photographs had upon me, is the feeling I have been chasing for the past year. The emotions he provokes from me, is what I want to provoke from others. He is making us think about what war really means for this country. On one side of the street there may be a guard patting down civilians, on the other there is a lady carrying a carton of eggs, but in the middle of it all, is the U.S. Army, rolling in, on their humvees, causing tension and fear, and sometimes, comfort. Through these photographs we are getting all of those elements, the feeling of danger, the feeling of safety, and the sense that through it all, life is going on.