07 July 2006

Making Excuses for the "Liberal" Media, II

[As the title suggests, this is the second of a two-part post; the first installment was yesterday.]

Now for Kimmelman. His article is a review of an exhibition of photographs by Harrell Fletcher entitled "The American War." Fletcher's photos are pictures of photographs on display in Ho Chi Minh City at the War Remnants Museum. The museum originals depict the Vietnam war and its consequences from the Vietnamese perspective. According to Kimmelman: "It is an ingenious little show; heartbreaking too. It would be a pity to miss." Unfortunately, I did miss the show in New York and Cambridge. Perhaps I can catch it elsewhere (Rochester, despite being tied into photographic production in obvious ways is off the map as far as such exhibits are concerned!).

Fletcher took his pictures surreptitiously, his "photographs of photographs" are made in such a way that it is "clear that he was there, in the museum." This according to Kimmelman introduces a sort of reflexivity into the viewing experience in which viewers are not just seeing but are aware of themselves seeing the photographs. This, as philosopher Patrick Maynard argues in The Engine of Visualization is how photographic depiction commonly works. So Kimmelman has not actually added much there.

What is disturbing about his review is when he compares Fletcher's work to another recent show in NYC, this one by Thomas Hirschhorn. Kimmelman suggests that "the connection between Mr. Fletcher's 'American War' and the war in Iraq is almost too obvious but his show does more than make that comparison. In a nearly invisible way, it raises a general question about looking at photographs: about what it means to see something from someone else's point of view . . . and also about how strangely, even alarmingly, compelling war pictures can be." So, having drawn the parallel between Vietnam and Iraq, Kimmelman immediately changes the subject eventually drifting off into musings on the personalized dimensions of seeing animated by ritualized reference to the often cited, little read Walter Benjamin.

All that is problematic enough. But, here is Kimmelman's assessment of Hirshhorn whom he takes to task for his use of war photographs from the Middle East: "The show, boasting about its inclusion of pictures that the American media generally find too gruesome to disseminate, was in retrospsect infuriating. It is difficult to make art out of war but easy to exploit violence and congratulate oneself for looking at pictures that other people can't or don't or won't. Piety is an abuse often heaped on top of bloodletting."

I have not personally seen Hirschhorn's work. I am not here to defend it. Instead I want to pose some questions to Kimmelman. What if the American media generally and The New York Times specifically did not self-censor? What if they actually confronted the American public with the costs of the war by actually publishing pictures of American casualties? Wouldn't that deprive Hirschhorn of the shock he seeks to exploit? Beyond that, by what right do members of western publics whose governments are prosecuting war in Iraq under completely false pretenses maintain that they "can't or don't or won't" look at disturbing images of war? If Kimmelman is outraged by Hirschhorn's alleged piety perhaps he ought to check in on his own self-righteous resentment and anger. After all, the newspaper Kimmelman writes for abdicated (by its own admission) its responsibility to challenge the administration in the lead up to the war. And the LA Times report I discussed yesterday makes it clear that once the war commenced that same newspaper has presented a sanitized narrative of the war's costs. Now that is infuriating! So much for the liberal media. If it were doing its job we would not have to focus our indignation on artists like Hirschhorn. We might instead focus on those perpetrating war in our name.

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09 July, 2006 08:39  

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