Sunday, 11 March 2012

photography @ Imperial War Museum

Went to see 2 exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum:

 Ori Gersht: This Storm Is What We Call Progress and Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin.

The Don McClullin exhibitions works well in the museum context – the inclusion of artefacts adding to the sense of sheer hard work and graft that McCullin exudes. Interesting to see the shift from photographs of conflicts to later work from the war in Bangladesh onwards where he focuses on the victims of war. Surprises included his moody landscapes of Somerset and playful photos of the Beatles. But it's his photography of conflict that stay – a shell shocked marine in Vietnam gazes blank and stunned from under his helmet – next to it a test print with instructions for the printer, although many are printed by McCullin himself.

The Ori Gersht by contrast is in colour and the prints both delicate and painterly. Cherry blossom shot at night dissolve into floating points of colour but referencing both Kamikaze badges of honour and Hiroshima's contaminated soil. A video re-enacts Walter Benjamin walking to safety in Spain on twin screens – juxtaposing landscape with an endless futile struggle. The show's title comes from Benjamin's writing on Klee's "Angelus Novus".

A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. 

Walter Benjamin (1968) Illuminations: Essays and Reflections; ed. by Hannah Arendt, New York: Schocken Books, p257-8

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