Imagine: A photo of four soldiers, carrying one of their own on a stretcher. There is a helicopter in the background, and the sun is setting. The soldier is bleeding everywhere. He is hurt and the scene is devastating. Yet, the photo is beautiful—and it needs to be, or else it won’t get published and no one will see it.
What does this tell us about the world we live in? That, even when reality is bleak, there must be a sense of hope.
So begins the Spur Festival’s “Art and War,” an exhilarating discussion about the ethics behind taking photos in war-torn zones. World-renowned photojournalists Michael Kamber and Rita Leistner sat down with Newsweek photo editor, Jamie Wellford to share some of the most captivating photos they had taken over the span of their careers.
Looking at these photos, one realizes how easy it is to forget that wars are occurring everyday, all over the world. When Kamber tells audiences that he has been taking photos in conflict zones since the 1980’s, one cannot help but look at him in awe. For every one photo, there are thousands of memories and moments that go un-photographed and in turn, un-documented.
We don’t see war, hear it or feel it—so, how can we possibly begin to imagine it? When we read the news to gage what is happening in a conflict-zone, oftentimes we learn about what is happening to the politicians, next we hear about the victims, but rarely do we hear the story of the journalist—the person who is on the ground, covering the story. “Most of the times, we’re the only one’s there, ” states Kamber.
We feel this sense of isolation, as Leistner shares her fascinating series Portraitscapes of War: Lebanon 2006, in which photographs of the landscape showing the destruction of war are juxtaposed with portraits of Lebanese citizens, looking directly into the camera, wide-eyed yet neutral. From these photos, one gages the immense amount of effort it takes peoples of a war-torn country to re-build their nation, brick by brick, road-by-road and building-by-building.
“Art and War” thus gave one the rare opportunity to hear the story behind the photo, as told by the photographer themselves; an eye-opening experience which ensured that one would not be able to look at a photo from a conflict zone in quite the same way again.