“The serendipitous confluence of technology, art, and politics in the fields of photography and film is the subject of the Jewish Museum in New York’s current exhibition, “The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film.” In his catalogue essay, the Russian art historian Alexander Lavrentiev, grandson of the artists Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko, gives a nuanced view of the complex situation in which Soviet photography developed: photography was dominated by three groups or tendencies, whose aesthetics mirrored, to some extent, the spectrum of political factions on the post-Soviet cultural stage. None of these groups opposed the Revolution, however; initially, in fact, most artists and the intelligentsia supported the regime.”
“The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film,” is on view at the Jewish Museum in New York through February 7.
Rarely does a book come around that so profoundly confronts us with what should be obvious and as a result challenges us to rethink the status quo. But this is what David Shield’s new book (War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict) has done. He has examined front page photos of war in The New York Times from 1991 to 2013. What he found were romanticized versions of war that were strikingly beautiful. In the photos, he notes, “[t]here’s no war there. There’s no attempt to document reality. It’s basically the war as screen saver, as wallpaper—a very distant aesthetic experience. Certainly, part of that is not to show the American dead except in a posture of composed relief. It seems the grief is kept out of frame in any true sense of agony or viscera or blood.”
While Shield is correct to call The New York Times out for its responsibility for glamorizing war, I think we all bear some responsibility. We don’t want to see the horror. We don’t want to think about the consequences of war. It is much easier to ignore it and carry on as usual. Shield is doing a great service by shocking all of us out of our comfort zones.
I highly recommend reading Robin Lindley’s interview with Shield: History News Network | Does Even the New York Times Glamorize Modern Armed Conflict?