'A Form Of Love' Looks at War-Time Art

A Form Of Love is an exhibition of contemporary conflict photography featuring the work of Larry Burrows, Tim HetheringtonPaolo Pellegrin, Peter van Agtmael, Franco Pagetti, Thomas Dworzak, Jean-Pierre Laffont, Marcus Bleasdale and Sebastiano Tomada, and Chris Anderson.  Jordan Sullivan and Aaron Stern curated A Form Of Love along with war photographer Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini.  

In the wake of American journalist James Foley‘s death, the three curators brought together photojournalists past and present to raise awareness and funds to benefit the Tim Hetherington Trust and James W. Foley Legacy Fund.  

Tell us about how the exhibition came together and the collaboration between yourself, Jordan and Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini.

Stern: I have been friends with both guys for about eight years but separately. I met them both around the same time in New York. Jordan and I opened 205A together this September 2014 with a group show called You Can Count On Me. Our goal was to bring photographers together to start and continue a dialogue about our own photography and build a small community together.

Sebastiano and I were having dinner the day after James Foley had been murdered by ISIS in Syria. Sebastiano had also just returned from Iraq. We wanted to do something to raise awareness about journalists that are in conflict areas risking their lives with little support. We thought we could show some of Sebastiano’s work along with possibly Franco and Paolo. Both said yes and we thought why not reach out to everyone and see what comes back. The response was overwhelmingly positive and everyone said yes. From day one the show came together quickly.

The work shown ranges from 1966 to 2012 and covers conflicts in six different countries. During this time have you seen a shift in the role of a photojournalist or the role that the images themselves take on?

Piccolomini: Part of this exhibition’s purpose is to highlight the shift of the role of the photojournalist. The work of reporters has changed radically in the past years. A downturn in publishing has brought on a transition towards the web with consequent slashing of the budgets newspapers dedicated to sending mostly free-lance journalists to conflict zones– which often implies no insurance, nor help from editors and less authority. To top it all off, conflicts have degenerated, starting with the Bosnian one, which saw reporters’ work conditions worsen, often becoming a terrorist target from the moment they understood that images can be used for propaganda. With no editors and institutional figures to protect the reporters who are risking their life to come up with stories from around the world there is a community of photojournalists who has offset this, becoming more and more a sort of family extension, a community bound by deep ties that can only come from sharing such intense life and death experience as that of war zones.

Conflict photography has in numerous cases been criticized as problematic imagery. What are the boundaries between a photograph of conflict and a conflicting photograph?

Piccolomini: The first real boundaries are usually created by photo editors for obvious ethical reasons; manage the viewer’s reaction and minimize the unnecessary. Every decision made by a person is made by whether they believe they are doing the right thing or not. It is important to take into account the impact your actions will have on other people and even more importantly if you are prepared to live with the consequences.

The principle with which we determine all of this lives in the realm of ethics and media. In this case, with photography, there are ethical responsibilities as well. Boundaries are not of utmost importance at first for photographers. As a war photographer myself I shoot everything that happens in front of my lens. The captured images are processed at a later stage where ethics become part of the editing process. Boundaries are necessary to a certain extent, managing spectators reactions and minimizing the unnecessary. Respect towards your subject matter is of outmost importance and portraying the body of a dead US Army soldier in a field in Afghanistan might not always send the right message. Photojournalists are stuck between reality and censorship. What is right or wrong?
A picture tells a thousand words, and when the picture pertains to a war, those thousand words are translated into languages allover the world. 

Perhaps Susan Sontag comes closest to articulating the moral dilemma at the heart of extreme images of suffering when she writes: "There is shame as well as shock in looking at the close-up of a real horror. Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it … or those who could learn from it. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be."

What’s next for 205A Gallery?

Stern and Sullivan: We are working on several shows and books. Our friend Jim Magnan has a new book being published by Dashwood in November. We are planning a solo exhibition for him at 205A after the A Form Of Love closes.

A Form Of Love opens Saturday, October 18th, 4pm – 8pm at 205 Avenue A at 12th Street. For more information, contact [email protected].

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