On Memorial Day, it seemed fitting to pay tribute to those who have sometimes given their lives to fighting man's inhumanity to man, and those who have dedicated their lives to documenting those struggles. I spent some time absorbing the enormity of the world's struggles and conflicts at the War/Photography exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography, where over 170 images dating from 1887 to the present detail the military and civilian cost of war. As with each exhibit at the Annenberg Space, a 30-minute film brought the bravery and dedication of war photographers to life through interviews with six of the photographers whose work is represented in the exhibit: Pulitzer Prize winners David Hume Kennerly and Carolyn Cole, Alexandra Avakian, Edouard H.R. Gluck, Ashley Gilbertson and Joao Silva. Silva lost both legs after stepping on a land mine while covering the Afghanistan war on assignment for the New York Times in 2010.
Unfortunately, the scope of the exhibit covers many photographers and those in the film are barely represented. As with many of the exhibits at the Annenberg, there was too much of a good thing, with the curators choosing to go wide, rather than deep. It would have been more satisfying to see more in-depth work, rather than a wide overview of many images.
As Kennerly says in the film, telling the story of war goes back to the beginning of photography. And some of the images on the walls here are iconic: Robert Capa's image of soldiers landing on the beach at Normandy, Susan Meiselas's guerillas waging the civil war in Nicaragua, James Nachtwey's riveting portraits of the victims of Rwandan genocide, Eddie Adams' capturing the execution of an unarmed Vietcong soldier by a member of the Vietnamese Army, David Turnley's photo showing the grief of losing a comrade as a helicopter brings the dead and wounded from the battlefield of the Gulf War.
Listening to the photographers speak on film about their mission, their commitment, their fear and seeing their bravery as they shot alongside soldiers armed not with cameras but rifles brought an immediacy to the images on the walls. Ashley Gilbertson came home from the war in Iraq determined to bring honor to the dead. He decided to photograph "Bedrooms of the Fallen," 40 bedrooms of soldiers who left for combat and never came home, 40 because that is the number of soldiers in a platoon. Some of the bedrooms had been locked by their families when they went to war and never unlocked again, memorials frozen in time.
"The war is fought on a very impersonal level," he says. "We should mourn their loss and make it deeply personal." For each of the photographers here, and many others whose work is part of this exhibit, the act of documenting these struggles and their aftermath, has become their personal passion and life's work.
The exhibit is in its last week, closing Saturday at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City.
Photos: Top, © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos. Second, Eddie Adams © Associated Press. Third, © Edouard H.R. Glück. Bottom, © Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum Photos.