The best war photographs crystalize brutality in a single, searing image. Today on Think, guest host Jerome Weeks spoke with a museum curator about the photographer’s role in how the public perceives war:
Anne Wilkes Tucker says one of the reasons that photos of war are so difficult to look at is that they can make us feel somehow complicit in the conflict.
And that feeling can extend to the person taking the picture.
“I think the photographers feel very conflicted. Most of the time they feel the need to document history prevails," she says.
Tucker is the photography curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. In her research for a recent exhibition of war photography, she found that there was a line that photographers have been unwilling to cross.
“In all the millions of photographs we looked at, we never saw a photograph of rape. And rape is a tool of war …. But the photographers we talked to just said they couldn’t," she says. "It was an additional violation.”
The pictures we do see put a human face on these conflicts. But Tucker says that, as effecting as photographs can be, they have their limits.
“Has a photograph ever stopped war and will it? No," she says. "Wars are generated by greed and anger and vengeance and so many other human emotions that are not necessarily susceptible to the kind of empathy that a photograph can generate.”
The photos from Tucker’s exhibition in Houston are collected in the book War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and its Aftermath.
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