Thursday, February 10, 2011

Afghanistan in 4 Frames at City Hall

The San Francisco Arts Commission opened a photography show in the basement of City Hall on Wednesday evening which focuses on the work in Afghanistan of four photojournalists, two from the Bay Area and two from the East Coast.

The ethics of being an "embedded reporter" with an occupying Western military force that is murdering people in their own country is an issue that brings up all kinds of queasy issues, such as whether it's possible or even desirable to make art out of other people's misery when your own country is helping to create it.

Teru Kuwayama and Eros Hoagland both displayed arty, blurred, black-and-white photographs (above) that didn't offer much beyond showing off visual effects, which was borderline offensive.

Thank goodness for the other two photographers who worked in color, Lynsey Addario and James Lee, whose photos are powerful and illuminating. The 37-year-old Addario was an International Relations major who started taking photos in 1996, and since then she's been hopping all over the world as a Pulitzer Prize/MacArthur Grant photojournalist. This included Iraq where she was briefly kidnapped in Fallujah.

Her photo essay is about female American soldiers in Afghanistan, and the images are fascinating and strange. (Click here to get to the whole exhibit at her website.)

James Lee (above) is a 40-year-old former Marine currently studying for a masters' degree in International Relations at San Francisco State.

He just picked up a camera three years ago, but from the evidence at this exhibit, he's a natural.

There's an article by Adrianne Bee in the SF State Magazine about Lee and this Counter-Narratives exhibit, (click here) where Lee describes why he embedded himself with the Afghan National Security Forces rather than the American military. "I didn't travel all the way to Afghanistan to take pictures of people from Texas."

The obvious trust between photographer and subject in these photos is remarkable.

At the end of the article, Lee quotes some inspirational advice from Venise Wagner, a journalism teacher with a course on ethics. "Among its lessons: Act independently, minimize harm and seek truth."

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