Aftermath and Aesthetics

Aftermath photography (also known as 'late photography') has become quite popular over the past few years. I myself attended the exhibition at Tate Modern in early 2015 entitled 'Conflict. Time. Photography.' which was a collection of images which showed the aftermath of conflict in gradually increasing lengths of time following the event. The first images in the exhibition showed images seconds after the incident, and as we passed through the gallery the time lengthened until the images were from years later. At the time I felt that the exhibition had missed something in that, as a viewer, I was hoping to see more images of conflict - there were in fact none - we simply saw pictures of the aftermath. This of course was the idea of the exhibition but many of the images weren't taken with the intention of being aftermath photography, they were simply used as such. Nevertheless, the exhibition did, to a large part, as the curator had intended.

Aftermath photography doesn't have to be concerned with the aftermath of conflict; any type of photograph which has an indexical link to the past, (which of course is all photography!) could be termed as such, but commonly it tends to show what is left after some major event, generally featuring some kind of obvious change, and is often intentionally done as opposed to showing two images chronologically, such as the retreat of a glacier. The coursework uses the example of Joel Meyerowitz's photographs of the aftermath of 9/11. In this case of course, Meyerowitz had no option but to photograph the aftermath, but an exhibition of Meyerowitz's work is likely to look very different to many eye-witness images of the event as they happened. As I mentioned above, all photography is to some extent aftermath photography but Meyerowitz's photographs were taken quite some time after the event and were never meant to show the events as they happened - they were intentionally 'aftermath photography' as we now know it. Clearly there is some difference in timing but what is the aesthetic difference here?

In David Campany's essay 'Safety in Numbness' (Campany, 2017) he explains how he feels that Meyerowitz's image are aesthetically too pleasant to convey the real horror of the events of 9/11, that is the aesthetics aren't appropriate to tell the story as it should be told. That said, there are plenty of images and videos showing the incidents of 9/11 as they happened and to view these images certainly would conjure up different feelings in the viewer. Meyerowitz's images are clearly meant to be pondered upon and to allow the viewer to create their own thoughts and feelings regarding the events. I disagree with David Campany's crticism of Meyerowitz's images as I certainly don't think it was Meyerowitz's intention to shock or horrify the viewer and that taking a stance as an artist to show these 'late' images is not only worthwhile but it is also healthy, as it helps people to consider the events from a calmer place, rather than just being upset by gruesome death and destruction.

As I mentioned earlier, aftermath photo isn't just about the aftermath of conflict, but it is almost invariably aesthetically 'calmer' than images taken at the time of or before the event. Order always leads to disorder, but disorder is scientifically more stable. Scientist James Lovelock was once asked how he would know if there was life on Mars and he replied he would look for 'negative entropy' where disorder becomes order. What he meant by this was that energy is being put into a system rather than being 'lost' (Energy is never lost it just takes on a different form). One could use the example of the collapse of the twin towers as an example of how vast amounts of energy were 'lost' as the building materials settled into a more natural state. Aftermath photography could therefore be described as the photographing of the natural state of positive entropy. Aesthetically there's a good chance (depending on how 'after' it is) that the images will not only be more disordered but calmer.

References:

Campany, D. (2017). Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography' - David Campany. [online] David Campany. Available at: http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/ [Accessed 8 Feb. 2017].