Exercise 4-7: Reflecting on the war photograph

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©Paul Seawright

Read the two essays in the BPB 2008 programme and look at the work the curator selected for the exhibition.

Write a short press release of around 250 words in your learning log.

The request to write a press release for this exercise is a strange one which I do not see the benefit in completing. The essays in the 2008 Brighton Photo Biennial programme that we are directed are an interesting critique of contemporary issues around war photography, my notes can be found here: Brighton Photo Biennial 2008 Brochure – notes

In his essay, Stallabrass explores how the difficulties faced in modern war reporting are not confined to lack of access through the practice of embedding journalists, but, are also driven by economic concerns of media organisations which leads to self censorship. Declining budgets and the effect of 24 hour news that demands instant relay has led to the rise of citizen journalism, who, rather than being an authentic voice because they are people on the ground are a risk to the integrity of journalism as a profession and used mainly as a cheap alternative to sending journalists to combat zones.

In her essay, Sarah James discuses what she terms ‘aftermath’ photography, the response of some photographers to the problem caused by the technological nature of modern warfare which means it is almost impossible to document as it happens. Rather than do this, they produce beautiful and carefully composed images of what is left behind in the wake of war. These “careful, slow photographs” force a deeper kind of reflection and are in stark contrast to the “cheap spectatorship” of 24 hour news coverage. Having introduced the idea and motivations of these photographer, she goes on to critique what could be termed the ‘beautification of war’ or the ‘military sublime’, ultimately asking the question: “does a war photography that seeks to represent the inhuman, abstract and even horrifically beautiful world of contemporary military sublime offer any resistance to it?”

Links to photographers cited by Sarah James:

Simon Norfolk

Afghanistan: Chronotopia

The Battlespace

Paul Seawright


Joel Meyerowitz

Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive

Sophie Ristelhueber


James, S. (2008) Making an ugly world beautiful? Morality and aesthetic in the aftermath. BPB 2008 Brochure. Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/bpb2008 [accessed 27th September 2018]

Stallabrass, J. (2008) The power and impotence of images. BPB 2008 Brochure. Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/bpb2008 [accessed 27th September 2018]

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