By Paul Roth, Senior Curator and Director, Photography and Media Arts
The Corcoran’s proximity to the seat of American power has long offered viewers an extraordinarily appropriate vantage from which to explore some of the most significant issues facing us today, through the eyes and sensibilities of artists and image-makers.
The Corcoran’s Summer 2013 exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, originated not here in Washington but at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, following a ten-year exploration of the subject.
Three curators (Anne Wilkes Tucker, Will Michels, and Natalie Zelt) perused hundreds of books and other publications, visited numerous museum, library, and archive collections worldwide, and consulted an advisory board of historians as part of a sustained research project—on a scale rarely undertaken in these days of shrinking time frames and constricted budgets. In Houston the exhibition was vast in scale, and included nearly 500 photographs, albums, magazines, books and artifacts.
The museum also committed considerable resources to acquire photographs of war for its permanent collection. The MFAH is to be commended for supporting and nurturing such an intense, complex, and ambitious exhibition as this one.
The Corcoran has many opportunities to feature exhibitions organized by other institutions, but is able to take only a fraction of those offered. WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY is a show we were determined to host, for numerous reasons. In 1985, the Corcoran mounted The Indelible Image: Photographs of War, 1846 to the Present, one of the first exhibitions on the subject at an art museum.
The catalog, authored by museum curators Frances Fralin and Jane Livingston, has long been considered a benchmark moment for the institution and for critical regard of the subject. Beyond this, the museum has mounted many memorable photography exhibitions featuring documentary work in its history; and the Corcoran College of Art + Design has long offered an excellent undergraduate degree in photojournalism, and more recently a groundbreaking program offering a Master of Fine Arts in new media photojournalism.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we felt that an exhibition on this subject would find a thoughtful reception here in the nation’s capital, at our location within shouting distance of the White House, near the city’s many war memorials honoring military sacrifice, and across the river from Arlington National Cemetery. The Corcoran’s display—the first East Coast stop of a national tour—will draw its audience from a population significantly involved in policy, defense contracting, and debates about war and peace, and from visitors to Washington as well, here to learn and celebrate the history of the nation. The Corcoran’s proximity to the seat of American power has long offered viewers an extraordinarily appropriate vantage from which to explore some of the most significant issues facing us today, through the eyes and sensibilities of artists and image-makers.
(Installation views of WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)
This exhibition, which features photographs made over 165 years by photojournalists, active duty service members, artists, and citizens, offers just such an opportunity. This is how war has been represented—and seen and understood—by generations of people, both those who have served in their nation’s militaries, and those who know war only from afar.
WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY opens this Saturday June 29, 2013 and is on view through September 29, 2013. Join us July 6th for a special event to mark the arrival of the show, then be sure to check the calendar for upcoming events throughout the summer.
- Thomas Hoepker, German (born 1936), A US Marine drill sergeant delivers a severe reprimand to a recruit, Parris Island, South Carolina, from the series US Marine Corps boot camp, 1970, 1970, inkjet print, Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos. © Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos
- Alfred Palmer, American (birth date unknown), Women aircraft workers finishing transparent bomber noses for fighter and reconnaissance planes at Douglas Aircraft Co. Plant in Long Beach, California, 1942, gelatin silver print, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Will Michels in honor of his sister, Genevieve Namerow
- Philip Jones Griffiths, Welsh (1936–2008), Called “Little Tiger” for killing two “Viet Cong women cadre”—his mother and teacher, it was rumored, Vietnam, 1968, gelatin silver print, the Philip Jones Griffiths Foundation, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery. © Philip Jones Griffiths / Magnum Photos.