Iraq Through the Lens of Vietnam

Dates: 03.10.08 - 15.11.08

Venue: BPB at University of Brighton Gallery

One of the main architects of the Iraq invasion, Donald Rumsfeld, has talked of an ‘image war’ between the US and its enemies. War has never been pursued in such an environment of image-saturation, and easy and rapid image distribution. This exhibition looks at this lens-based environment of images in an age of very fast image transmission from digital devices, phone cameras, of vast mass media conglomerates, independent websites of various political complexions, and news savvy resistance and terrorist organizations.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have reactivated memories of past conflicts, particularly Vietnam, and of the use of photographic images in stoking and opposing war. The contrast is particularly illuminating because the response of the US military to its defeat in Vietnam was to remake its strategy in the negative image of that war, and much of that strategy was about image management. In Vietnam, for example, the military allowed photojournalists to travel with the troops where they wished. In Iraq those seeking the protection of the military must undertake to be ‘embedded’ with a particular unit; while critical work has certainly been made in these circumstances, it is intended to encourage a narrow focus on the conditions of the troops and an identification with them.

This exhibition will show the images of all sides in the conflicts. In Vietnam, the photographers of the National Liberation Front and the North Vietnamese Army took, in circumstances hard even to imagine, some of the most striking images of the war. These photographers, who were also combatants, had to go to the combat zone by hiking down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an extremely perilous journey that could take many weeks. They carried a roll or two of film. They would develop their films in makeshift underground darkrooms, wash film and prints in jungle streams, and hang prints in guerrilla camps. For publication, most photographers would have to hike back up the Trail to the North, not daring to entrust their film to anyone else.

The use of images on resistance websites will also be examined, along with the continued life of the most notorious images from both wars online, from the furious controversies that rage about their interpretation to their use in jokes and other trivia.

Exhibiting photographers include Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (IQ), Larry Burrows (UK), Doan Cong Tinh (VN), Ashley Gilbertson (AU), Philip Jones Griffiths (UK), Bilal Hussein (IQ), Le Minh Truong (VN), Catherine Leroy (FR), Don McCullin (UK), Khalid Mohammed (IQ), Tim Page (UK), Stephanie Sinclair (US) and Bruno Stevens (BE), Muhammed Muheisen (IL), Anja Niedringhaus, Kael Alford (US), Thorne Anderson (US), Andrew Stern, Wissam al-Okaili, Helmy al-Azawi, Luis Sinco (US), Benjamin Lowy (US), Steven Curtis.

Supported by the Archive of Modern Conflict, Associated Press, Getty Images, Hamiltons Gallery, Philip Jones Griffiths Foundation, Magnum, Metro Imaging, Reuters, Spectrum Photographic, VII and Trolley Books.

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