I'm on a study visit roll at the moment! This is my 3rd one in a couple of months and it's really helping to fill out my broader understanding of photography beyond the merely technical. It is also getting me out and about in a city in which I have lived for over 20 years and yet have never really explored! Yesterday was a bit of a miserable day weather-wise but I was nevertheless looking forward to this exhibition. On the way in I read an article about the exhibition which had been written by Laura Cumming and appeared in the Guardian. I don't know why, but I expected a glowing review - instead it highlighted a number of what Cumming thought were failings. As it turns out, the view from a number of my fellow students - and to a degree, the tutors - reflected this: it was felt that the exhibition wasn't as good as it might have been. Although the idea of having photographs of war and conflict showing events at gradually increasing times after the event sounded good on paper, this wasn't really how it panned out. Initially it seemed promising - we saw shots of events moments after explosions, Don McCullin's traumatised marine, Luc Delahaye's images of dust clouds settling on wrecked vehicles or floating above Taliban positions; but from there the exhibition seemed to lose its way a little. It became a series of mini-exhibitions, some of which were quite abstract compared to the initial promising ones. One criticism of the curatorship was that the exhibition didn't work chronologically - but was organised so that as you moved through you were seeing images taken later and later after the conflict. It was an interesting way to do it, but somehow it didn't seem to work. Very few of the images were of people, primarily because a lot to the exhibition showed events months and years after the conflict itself. On their own, there were some interesting stories being told - the atomic blasts in Japan in 1945 are so much a part of the history of conflict that any images relating directly to the attacks will be of interest. However, there were almost none that showed the people involved; most were of mementos found after the event. In the discussion afterwards, the general feeling seemed to be that the exhibition lacked the human interest side of conflict. Although there may seem a slightly gruesome side to this desire to see humans, dead or dying, it was almost expected. There were plenty of captions describing how people had suffered, such as in Dresden, Libya and Bosnia, and certainly plenty of thought provoking stories, but most of the images failed to do this on their own. In the Guardian piece, Laura Cumming criticised the lack of photojournalism, that is, the absence of photography of the actual events as they happened. I think this is why the exhibition failed to some degree, it just didn't capture the moment.
As a study visit I think it worked well. Although initially we struggled to find somewhere afterwards where we could all sit down together and discuss the exhibition, the tutors were able to find a classroom on the ground floor which allowed us all to sit down together. The room was large, quiet and allowed us all to have our say, should we so choose. It was quite a large group but there were three tutors, Russell Squires, Sharon Boothroyd and Clive White.