Censorship in war photography

Broomberg and ChanarinThe Day Nobody Died, Broomberg and Chanarin, 2008

The Day Nobody Died is a photographic work by artist duo – Broomberg and Chanarin, from their time serving as official photographers to the British Army in 2008. On the front line in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, during the deadliest month of the war, with a hefty list of dos and don’ts, they pondered how they would create a meaningful and emotive work for the British public.

With military bars on official photographers, artists are shrouded in censorship. For security reasons, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand why. However, as taxpayers funding conflict abroad do we not have a vested interest in the honest portrayal of conflict, and the examination of the moral and emotional impact that these events and spaces occupy?

Broomberg and Chanarin are masters of exploring the outskirts of disaster and war. In this work they used a DIY camera disguised as an innocuous cardboard box as a method of diversion and as a tool of expression. Going back to the fundamentals of photography, using the basic chemical manifestation, they exposed colour photographic paper to the surrounding environment. The results – an abstract vision of the peripheries of disaster, incorporating all that they were contracted to avoid, a pure protest on censorship.

Their work is a long stretch from the result of Magnum photographer, Robert Capa – photographer to the British Army during WW2, running on Omaha Beach during the Normandy landings in 1944, armed with only a camera. On viewing the surviving photographs* 70 years later, they still offer the experience of overwhelming fear and what I imagine zero level censorship to look like.

*this is a tragic story that offers me condolence whenever I make a mistake at work, if you don’t know it, the studio assistant accidentally left the dryer on too high and melted all the negatives, saving only a handful of images

Robert CapaPhotograph of D-day landings, Robert Capa, 1944

The Day Nobody Died seems to demonstrate a fearful mirage. The work expresses the desperation to communicate the horrors of warfare and the creative initiative required to extract the essence of a landscape riddled with conflict…or so I imagine whilst tapping into my laptop from the comfort of my London office.

Viewing the work in the gallery, you would be forgiven for taking the works for being a wishy washy piece of art, destined to sit in the foyer of a corporate establishment. Read the small print and you understand the sickly disposition the artists find themselves in.

I’m not lusting after blood thirsty Weegee grotesqueness but I’m grateful for the artistry in finding the freedom of expression to interpret and communicate the terrors, emotions and the context of these alien environments that the British public are at least twice removed from.

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