WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath
Opens Veterans Day, Sunday, November 11, in Houston
Admission on opening day is free to all visitors, in recognition of Veterans Day; admission remains free to active-duty military and veterans through the run of the exhibition
WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY travels nationally to Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and Brooklyn Museum through February 2014
Houston—September 2012—On November 11, 2012, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, debuts an unprecedented exhibition exploring the experience of war through the eyes of photographers. WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath features nearly 500 objects, including photographs, books, magazines, albums and photographic equipment. The photographs were made by more than 280 photographers, from 28 nations, who have covered conflict on six continents over 165 years, from the Mexican-American War of 1846 through present-day conflicts.
WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath has been organized by the MFAH curatorial team of Anne Wilkes Tucker, the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography; Will Michels, photographer and Glassell School of Art instructor; and Natalie Zelt, curatorial assistant for photography. After the MFAH premiere, which runs November 11, 2012, to February 3, 2013, the presentation travels nationally to the Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and the Brooklyn Museum. Accompanying the exhibition is a 600-page catalogue of the same title, with interviews and essays by the curators, contributing scholars and military historians.
The exhibition takes a critical look at the relationship between war and photography, exploring what types of photographs are, and are not, made, and by whom and for whom. Rather than a chronological survey of wartime photographs or a survey of “greatest hits,” the exhibition presents types of photographs repeatedly made during the many phases of war—regardless of the size or cause of the conflict, the photographers’ or subjects’ culture or the era in which the pictures were recorded. The images in the exhibition are organized according to the progression of war: from the acts that instigate armed conflict, to “the fight,” to victory and defeat, and images that memorialize a war, its combatants and its victims. Both iconic images and previously unknown images are on view, taken by military photographers, commercial photographers (portrait and photojournalist), amateurs and artists.
“WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY promises to be another pioneering exhibition, following other landmark MFAH photography exhibitions such as Czech Modernism: 1900–1945 (1989) and The History of Japanese Photography (2003),” said Gary Tinterow, MFAH director. “Anne Tucker, along with her co-curators, Natalie Zelt and Will Michels, has spent a decade preparing this unprecedented exploration of the complex and profound relationship between war and photography.”
“Photographs serve the public as a collective memory of the experience of war, yet most presentations that deal with the material are organized chronologically,” commented Tucker. “We believe WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY is unique in its scope, exploring conflict and its consequences across the globe and over time, analyzing this complex and unrelenting phenomenon.”
The earliest work in the exhibition is from 1847, taken from the first photographed conflict: the Mexican-American War. Other early examples include photographs from the Crimean War, such as Roger Fenton’s iconic The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) and Felice Beato’s photograph of the devastated interior of Fort Taku in China during the Second Opium War (1860). Among the most recent images is a 2008 photograph of the Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the remote Korengal Valley of Eastern Afghanistan by Tim Hetherington, who was killed in April 2011 while covering the civil war in Libya. Also represented with two photographs in the exhibition is Chris Hondros, who was killed with Hetherington. While the exhibition is organized according to the phases of war, portraits of servicemen, military and political leaders and civilians are a consistent presence throughout, including Yousuf Karsh’s classic 1941 image of Winston Churchill, and the Marlboro Marine (2004), taken by embedded Los Angeles Times photographer Luis Sinco of soldier James Blake Miller after an assault in Fallujah, Iraq. Sinco’s image was published worldwide on the cover of 150 publications and became a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist.
The exhibition was initiated in 2002, when the MFAH acquired what is purported to be the first print made from Joe Rosenthal’s negative of Old Glory Goes Up on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima (1945). From this initial acquisition, the curators decided to organize an exhibition that would focus on war photography as a genre. During the evolution of the project, the museum acquired more than a third of the prints in the exhibition. The curators reviewed more than one million photographs in 17 countries, locating pictures in archives, military libraries, museums, private collections, historical societies and news agencies; in the personal files of photographers and service personnel; and at two annual photojournalism festivals: World Press Photo (Amsterdam) and Visa pour l’Image (Perpignan, France). The curators based their appraisals on the clarity of the photographers’ observation and capacity to make memorable and striking pictures that have lasting relevance. The pictures were recorded by some of the most celebrated conflict photographers, as well as by many who remain anonymous. Almost every photographic process is included, ranging from daguerreotypes to inkjet prints, digital captures and cell-phone shots.
The MFAH curators have been joined on this ambitious project by an international advisory committee: Hilary V. Roberts, head of collections management for the Imperial War Museum Photograph Archive in London; John Stauffer, chair of the history of American civilization and professor of English and African and African American studies at Harvard University; William Sheldon Dudley, former director of naval history for the U.S. Navy Department and retired director of the Naval Historical Center, Washington, DC; Jeffrey William Hunt, director of the Texas Military Forces Museum in Austin; Xavia Karner, chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Houston; and Paul J. Matthews, founder and chairman of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston. Additionally, Bodo von Dewitz, senior chief curator of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany; and Liam Kennedy, director of the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin, contributed essays to the catalogue.
Tickets and Visitor Information
Exhibition tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday, October 29, with presale for MFAH members starting one week in advance on Monday, October 22. Admission on opening day is free for all visitors. Admission is free for active-duty military and veterans through the run of the exhibition.
WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY requires a timed-entry ticket, which also provides access to the museum’s permanent collections. Tickets are free for MFAH members, with the quantity determined by level of membership. For nonmembers, tickets are $18 for adults; $15 for senior adults (65 and older), students with valid ID and youth ages 6 to 18. Reduced-rate tickets are available on Thursdays, in accordance with the Free Thursday program sponsored by Shell.
Active military and veterans who present an ID receive free admission. Military families with ID receive $2 off the price of each ticket. Visit www.mfah.org/wp for updates and more details.
WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Following the Houston presentation, the exhibition travels to the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles; the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. At the Annenberg Space for Photography, the exhibition will include an original documentary film produced exclusively for the gallery’s high-resolution 4K screens.
• The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston | November 11, 2012–February 3, 2013
• The Annenberg Space for Photography | March 23–June 2, 2013
• The Corcoran Gallery of Art | June 29–September 29, 2013
• The Brooklyn Museum | November 8, 2013–February 2, 2014
• W. Eugene Smith and James Nachtwey
(October 14, 2012–January 1, 2013 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)
W. Eugene Smith and James Nachtwey are known for making some of the most powerful photographs in the history of journalism. Born 30 years apart, each pushed the boundaries of their profession in substantial ways that reflect different eras of publishing: Smith the heyday of printed picture magazines, and Nachtwey the burgeoning digital era. The mission for both Smith (1918–1978) and Nachtwey (born 1948): to bear witness. This exhibition focuses on their documentations of medical practices. The MFAH collection images from Smith’s 1948 Country Doctor series—on the practice of Dr. Ernest Ceriani in Kremmling, Colorado (population 1,000)—comprise a nearly complete version of Smith’s photographic essay as originally published in Life magazine. The major Nachtwey work in this exhibition is The Sacrifice, a mural of 60 photographs shot in military operating rooms in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. Digitally printed on a 30-foot seamless sheet, the relentless views of life-saving surgery in modern military hospitals are a dramatic contrast to Ceriani’s modest facilities. On an adjoining gallery wall, photos from Nachtwey’s series Father Mike depict an American priest working with AIDS patients in Thailand. This exhibition is organized by Anne Wilkes Tucker, the MFAH Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography.
• Soldier, at Ease
(November 8, 2012–January 6, 2013 at Houston Center for Photography)
Soldier, at Ease looks at the ways active soldiers spend private time “at ease,” while they are off duty and after they return home. Photographs and videos by Louie Palu (born 1968), Erin Trieb (born 1982) and Tim Hetherington (1970–2011)—all of whom are represented in WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY—as well as images by active-duty soldiers themselves, illustrate a more personal experience of the soldier as an individual. This exhibition is organized by Houston Center for Photography executive director Bevin Bering Dubrowski, exhibition coordinator Libbie J. Masterson and the HCP exhibitions committee.
• Ewan Gibbs: Arlington National Cemetery
(November 11, 2012–February 10, 2013 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)
For this exhibition, British artist Ewan Gibbs (born 1973) trained his expert eye on Arlington National Cemetery to create a series of 16 drawings after photographs he took while visiting the iconic site. In addition, Ewan Gibbs: Arlington National Cemetery presents 36 photographs from the MFAH collection by artists who have inspired Gibbs. Together, the drawings and photographs underscore Gibbs’s interest in visual perception, specifically the role the human eye plays in viewing and processing visual material. This exhibition was conceptualized by late MFAH curator Barry Walker and was organized by Yasufumi Nakamori, MFAH associate curator for photography, with Rebecca Dunham, MFAH curatorial assistant for prints and drawings.
Organization and Funding
WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Generous funding is provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation; the Annenberg Foundation; Mr. James Edward Maloney and Mr. Carey Chambers Maloney; the Trellis Fund/Betsy and Frank Karel; the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.; Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP; An Anonymous Donor in memory of Thomas W. Tucker; the Chris Hondros Fund; the Trust for Mutual Understanding; Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Richard and Dodie Jackson; and Kelly Wirfel and John Holcomb. Admission for veterans and active-duty military is generously underwritten by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.
About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, library, theater and two art schools, with two house museums, for American and European decorative arts, nearby. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers more than 64,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. The MFAH photography collection comprises more than 28,000 photographs.