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Stunning War Photography Exhibition Opens at Annenberg!

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Jay Weston
Jay Weston

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I just attended one of the most powerful -- and painful -- exhibitions in memory. War Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, at the Annenberg Space for Photography, opened this week and runs through June 2nd. It is a stunning exhibit at this superb contemporary museum in Century City (2000 Avenue of the Stars, 213-403-3000, with validated parking under the building. Wed. thru Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 7:30 pm, Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Open Monday, Memorial Day, May 30th.)

I strongly suggest you, your family and friends, visit (it is free to all) sometime soon, for an experience which will be memorable and revealing -- albeit, as I said, it can also be somewhat painful if you have ever experienced war in any of its guises. (And who in today's world can say they have escaped some consequences of war? It is a given in our society.) A sign at the museum says that war has been a constant throughout human history, but it was only in the mid-19th century, when photography was invented, that the stark reality of the human cost of war entered the lives and living rooms of people far removed from the field of battle. Millions and millions of photgraphs have been made of war by military personnel, commercial photographers, amateurs, and fine-arts photographers. "The 19th century began by believing what was reasonable was true and it would end by believing that what it saw in a photograph was true," wrote historian William Ivins. (I might note that in today's digital age, we understand that photographs and other forms of information are malleable and can be manipulated to affect public opinion as much as to inform.)

the face of war

"The Face of War." Photo by Luis Sinco/LA Times

going off to war

"Going Off to War." Photo by Anthony Suau

troopship

"Troopship" -- I was on one for three weeks going off to Korea

Photo by Damon Winter/NY Times

The 170 images in this exhibit are not arranged by specific wars, but according to the arc of war -- from instigation to recruitman, embarkation and training, to "the fight" and the "fog of war," to its aftermath, with prisoners and executions, the wounded and refugees, to war's end, memorials and remembrances. I'm told that they examined thousands of pictures in military archives, news agencies, photographers' files, museums, private collections, books, websites and other sources. More than 500 photographs were then selected, along with related objects such as books, magazines, albums and photographic equipment. More than 280 photographers from 28 nations produced them, and the images cover conflicts that occurred on six continents over the span of 165 years, from the Mexican-American War in 1846 through the 2012 civil war in Libya. It includes both military and civilian points of view... from Iwo Jima to Times Square, from Crimea to Kosovo, all are here. You'll see such iconic images as Joe Rosenthal's Old Glory Goes Up on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, and Alfred Eisenstaedt's V-J Day, Times Square, New York. Look for Eddie Adam's image of the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner on the streets of Saigon.

wounded friend

"Wounded Friend." Photo by Larry Burrows

last rites

"Last Rites." Photo by Henri Huet/AP

The exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and was made possible by support from the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation. There is a stunning 27-minute long documentary by Arclight Productions commissioned by the Annenberg that plays continually in the small theatre, depicting many shots from the prize-winning photographers included. I must admit that I was preoccupied with images from my personal war, that 'police action' in Korea from 1950 to 1953, when I spent 16 months in that war zone living the excitement and the horror of it all. (Yes, excitement is appropriate, for I am reminded of Robert E. Lee's comment: "It's well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.") I was drafted as a young Brooklyn boy, served in the carnage of a terrible conflict where over 35,000 men died, and came home a rather scarred but much experienced older youth. I had to flee the museum after an hour, for these photos provoked so many memories it became almost unbearable. I took photographs with my little Canon of some of these images, which I am reproducing here with my own "titles,"along with the name of each photographer. I must note my personal appreciation for a great woman, Wallis Annenberg, for this amazing museum, the first solely photographic cultural destination in the Los Angeles area. I have reported on its many exhibitions, from fashion and food to Africa and now war. Photographic images leave their mark on the way we understand our world, and anything that helps that understanding is vital to our well-being.

anguish

"Anguish." Photo by David Turnley/Corbis

kids

"Kids." Photo by Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum Photos

medic!

"Medic." Photo by Jason P. Howe/ConflictPics

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