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Holiday Snaps

26.06.08 | Julian Stallabrass

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11.50 pm Nov 7 2003. CPL Graner and SPC Harman pose for picture behind the nude detainees.


I have been working through the 300-odd publicly available images from Abu Ghraib to make a selection for the University of Brighton Gallery exhibition, Iraq Through the Lens of Vietnam. It is far from being a usual curatorial task. How to select among the various horrors exhibited? Should one stress the repetitious nature of this photographic trophy taking, or give full scope to its variety? How should such images be displayed? Should they be differentiated from the examples of photojournalism that we are showing in the same exhibition, or the official US Army photographs?

We are thinking of showing about 70 Abu Ghraib photographs in a grid covering an entire wall in the gallery. This type of display will emphasise the sheer quantity of the images, and the way that they build into narrative sequences. Amid the numerous and diverse horrors of the jail, I want to focus on the photographic aspect of the terrorising regime: that photography was used partly for the satisfaction of the guards—and in their standardisation and insistent repetition, these pictures can be compared to holiday snaps—but also that photography was used as part of the process of humiliation and degradation. That is the main point of having these things seen in a gallery, that they slowly, materially press that point home.