Portraits from a Warzone: Photojournalism, life and death in conflict, by Helena Roy

It seems that the concept of a finite war has collapsed in the face of long-term conflicts without geographical limits. In the same way, reporting has changed and as smartphones have emerged as a reporting device, perhaps art seems out of place in a war zone. Static, micro-level portraits will not headline the ten o’clock news or sprint through Twitter. The ease of taking grainy last-minute iPhone footage befits the chronicling of ceaseless long-term struggles, it seems. But a portrait can just as easily convey the enormity of a conflict as a graphic battle scene. And as  today’s battle scenes  have chenged, becoming shattered generations rather than muddy, shelled fields – portraiture reflects some of the deeper consequences of war, reverberating across countries and time.

And so, artists are creating collaborative projects to thread communities out of those displaced by war. On 1st February 2014, in central Kiev, anti-government protestors were barricaded in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, living under a lethal siege. Armour was improvised in a setting of ice, fire, smoke and soot. Anastasia Taylor-Lind, a photojournalist from London, set up a makeshift portrait studio by the barricades. The result of her work is immensely powerful. Against a blank black curtain, ordinary men and women confront the viewer, vulnerable in their homemade protective clothing. As time progressed during this project, the artist’s subjects morphed from revolutionaries brandishing weapons, to women cradling flowers for the dead.

'Anika' by Anastasia Taylor-Lind (Kiev, 2014)
'Eugene' by Anastasia Taylor-Lind (Kiev, 2014)
'Olena' by Anastasia Taylor-Lind (Kiev, 2014)

When conflicts feel like relics of history, or too distant to be relevant, photojournalism throws forward untold stories that demand attention. Photojournalist Michael Kamber published photos from three of the Iraq war’s most prominent photographers. Frustrated at America’s desire to tune out of the war, and the US military’s encouragement of indifference by taking an active role in censoring what could be photographed, the cautiously obscure portraits – some shocking and gruesome – convey an unavoidable sense of perpetual sadness.

In Ali Musayyib, an Iraqi child jumps over the remains of victims found in a mass grave south of Baghdad. The victims were killed by Saddam Hussein’s government during a Shiite uprising here following the 1991 Gulf War. (Photography by Marco di Lauro, 27 May 2003)
An Iraqi woman walks through a plume of smoke rising from a massive fire at a liquid gas factory in Basra, as she searches for her husband. The fire was allegedly started by looters picking through the factory. (Photograph by Lynsey Addario, 26 May 2003)
Samar Hassan, five, screams moments after her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division. The troops fired on the Hassan-family car when it unwittingly approached during a dusk patrol in the tense northern town of Tal Afar (Photograph by Chris Hondros, 18 January 2005).

The mass of social media flowing from every war zone makes it almost impossible to separate out nuanced understanding from the fake or unrevealing. Portraits from warzones offer a considered insight into the effects of war and social displacement around the world. Kamber’s portraits show wounds scarring both Iraqi and US communities, as soldiers bring home injury, grief and disillusionment with their sovereign state’s confused world identity. Syrian artist Tammam Azzam’s version of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’, superimposed on a hauntingly empty, bullet-ridden building in Damascus, is a passionate plea for empathy and kindness amidst cold brutality. Here, the golden ghost of Klimt’s tender portrait mourns the splendour and love the city once offered.

Alan Jermaine Lewis, 23, a machine gunner with the Third Infantry Division, was wounded July 16, 2003, on Highway 8 in Baghdad when the Humvee he was driving hit a land mine, blowing off both his legs, burning his face, and breaking his arm in six places. He was delivering ice to other soldiers at the time. (Photograph by Nina Berman, 23 November 2003 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin.)
Syrian artist Tammam Azzam's 'Kiss' in Syria

As conflict after conflict is buried under an avalanche of new crises, it is too easy to forget one for another. The interchangeablity of hashtags perhaps references this better than anything:  #Ukraine, #Syria, #Iraq and #IslamistState. Photojournalism moves with a society undergoing struggles, capturing the suffering that will remain with people for generations. Most importantly, portraits encourage us to consider the status of the subject in a world perplexed by the boundaries of nation, class, race and religion.

With thanks to Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Michael Kamber and Tammam Azzam for photographs.

Berlin: City of Dissent. Thoughts by AHA tutor Andrew Stewart Mackay.

Hot-bed of dissent for two hundred years now, Berlin has absorbed strikingly divergent ideologies ranging from Romanticism, Expressionism and Dada to the imperatives of Marxism, Nazism and the Cold War.  The multi-layered history of Berlin’s artistic, cultural and political radicalism reveals a city at the very heart of twentieth century culture.

Despite the material and philosophical advances of the 18th century Enlightenment, there was a growing sense amongst many German artists of the day that spirituality in art had been entirely forgotten. The scientific view of nature prevailed; God was either relatively absent in the miracle of creation or a simple fiction, a myth. So how did one experience awe and wonder in this brave new world? A revolution, in a period of revolutions, was in order.

'Monk by the Sea' (1809) by Caspar David Friedrich


The most famous German Romantic artist was Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) whose use of the ‘sublime’ in nature depicted the glory and terror of the natural world as well as the folly of human civilisation. The revolutionary middle-class Berlin student Karl Marx (1818-83) saw the folly of civilisation as the destructive ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’ going on to write his famous book The Communist Manifesto (1848). The personal experience of brutalising urban civilisation was violently explored a hundred years later with the emergence of German Expressionism, a movement devoted to the inner subjectivity of human psychology. The personal is always political and Expressionist artists such as Otto Dix (1891-1969) and George Grosz (1893-1959) sought to explore the perversity of modern life. The devastating effects of the First World War only served to increase this political agitation.

'Sylvia von Harden' (1926) by Otto Dix


In Berlin during the nineteen twenties the radical ‘Dada’ movement emerged, an absurdist exploration of surreal ‘madness’ seeking to expose the corruptions of the Weimar Republic. Considered ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi’s (themselves dissenters from the status quo), Hitler’s fascist revolution and the Second World War affected a cessation of the radical avant-garde in Germany. By the nineteen-fifties Cold War anxieties pervaded Berlin, particularly after the erection of the GDR Wall between 1961 and 1975. Artists on both sides of the Wall often, naturally, became exemplars of their respective ideologies. But West Germany was decidedly more tolerant of the social critiques emerging, for example, from the work of Joseph Beuys (1921-86) and Anselm Kiefer (b.1945) even if the work explored some of the more uncomfortable elements of German history. Nourished by conflict, dissent and uncomfortable memories, since the fall of the Wall in 1989 Berlin has once again established itself as an international epicentre for the radical and subversive avant-garde.

'Das Endedes 20' (1982-3) by Joseph Beuys






Andy will be giving a lecture on Berlin tomorrow evening at Durham University:

8pm, Tuesday November 27th in the Birley Room, Hatfield College. There will be free drinks in the college bar afterwards. You can contact Alex Fielding alex@arthistoryabroad.com for more details.

We are also getting lots of bookings now for our Whistlestop Trip to Berlin with Andy, 8-10 February 2013. Contact alex@arthistoryabroad.com now to secure your place!