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Book Review: War Is Only Half the Story, Vol. 5

War Is Only Half the Story, Vol. 5. Photographs by Davide Monteleone,
Elizabeth Herman, Miquel Dewever-Plana, Carlos Javier Ortiz, Massimo Mastrorillo
& Lara Ciarabellini. Published by The Aftermath Project, 2012.
War Is Only Half the Story, Vol. 5
Janelle Lynch

War Is Only Half the Story, Vol. 5
Photographs by Davide Monteleone, Elizabeth Herman, Miquel Dewever-Plana, Carlos Javier Ortiz, Massimo Mastrorillo and Lara Ciarabellini.
The Aftermath Project, 2012. Softcover. 92 pp., 74 color illustrations and four gatefolds, 11x11".

War is Only Half the Story, a book of documentary photographs, reveals visual narratives about the fortitude of humanity in the wake of war. Five projects show people learning to live again — rebuilding families, homes, and societies. The book is published by The Aftermath Project, an American non-profit organization dedicated to broadening the public's understanding of
"the true cost of war — and the real price of peace."

The book recalls the words of essayist, poet, and farmer, Wendell Berry. Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he wrote in In the Presence of Fear: "What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness… We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness."

War is Only Half the Story includes work by the winner and finalists of its yearly grant competition, which is open to photographers worldwide covering the aftermath of conflict. Davide Monteleone was the 2011 winner for Red Thistle, a project he began three years before in Georgia and Russia's Northern Caucasus, to document "the aftermath of two centuries of cruel disputes"—the ethnic, religious, and geopolitical conflicts that have plagued Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushtia, Circassia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachay–Cherkessia.

Monteleone's work lays bare the fragility of peaceable daily life in the face of constant violence. In one image, two middle-aged women stand arms akimbo in bathing suits on a beach during the holiday that celebrates Abkhazia's independence from Russia. Their bodies are soft, their gazes hardened by the harshness of light and history. Another photograph depicts two men dressed in black suits seated at a table in front of an arrangement of fresh fruit. They are celebrating a wedding, but the mood is that of a funeral. Their heads are bowed, as is the bride's, who stands in the corner with her back to the wall, eyes cast down.

War Is Only Half the Story, Vol 5, by Davide Monteleone, Elizabeth Herman, Miquel Dewever-Plana, Carlos Javier Ortiz, Massimo Mastrorillo and Lara Ciarabellini. Published by The Aftermath Project, 2012.

But those images are only part of a somber drama. In Grimi, Dagestan, the photographer shows us a dense stream of blood textured with debris. It flows down a quiet concrete street to meet the feet of a passerby cloaked in black. The village is notorious for its cases of abuse, torture, and human rights violations following a 2006 conflict with Russia. In a photograph of a domestic interior in South Ossetia, matching coffins sheathed in overcast light and crimson fabric await burial. They contain victims of a land dispute between Georgia and Russia. In another image, made from an overhead perspective in a newly built mosque, crowded rows of kneeling men pray. The motion of their movement is rendered in soft streaks of color. 

War Is Only Half the Story, Vol 5, by Davide Monteleone, Elizabeth Herman, Miquel Dewever-Plana, Carlos Javier Ortiz, Massimo Mastrorillo and Lara Ciarabellini. Published by The Aftermath Project, 2012.

Monteleone's photograph on the paperback cover is of a dilapidated gymnasium-turned-memorial site. Pictures of ninety-one men, women, and children line the wall beneath a skeletal basketball hoop. They are victims of the Second Chechen War. Funeral wreaths are the only signs of life. In the foreground, a blue ball is buried between broken floorboards.

Red Thistle, the title of Monteleone's project, comes from Tolstoy's novella, Hadji Murat, in which the flower is portrayed metaphorically to represent the Caucasus' struggle for independence from Russia. Equally compelling are the series made by The Aftermath Project's finalists, Elizabeth Herman, whose A Woman's War explores the experiences of Bangladeshi women post-1971 liberation struggle; Miquel Dewever-Plana's Guatemala: The Other War, which shows a gang-driven culture ravaged by thirty-six years of civil conflict; Massimo Mastrorillo and Lara Ciarabellini's If Chaos Awakens the Madness, work from Bosnia and Herzegovina that chronicles the ongoing struggle for harmony after the Bosnian War; and Too Young to Die, the book's sole black and white series about an undeclared, but no less real, war in Chicago's inner-city, by Carlos Javier Ortiz.

War Is Only Half the Story, Vol 5, by Davide Monteleone, Elizabeth Herman, Miquel Dewever-Plana, Carlos Javier Ortiz, Massimo Mastrorillo and Lara Ciarabellini. Published by The Aftermath Project, 2012.

An introductory text precedes each body of work, illuminating the premise of the photographers' inquiry and relevant historical and cultural information. Following each series is a list of images and detailed captions. Text about one of Mastrorillo's pictures of a begging Roma — or gypsy — girl, states that Romas are not among the nationalities recognized by the Bosnia Herzegovina constitution. Text about one of Ciarabellini's pictures of a group of people seated along a sunny lakeside in Perucac, indicates that they are not picnickers, after all. They are volunteers resting during the exhumation of a mass grave in the Serbian village that borders Bosnia and Herzegovina.

War Is Only Half the Story, Vol 5, by Davide Monteleone, Elizabeth Herman, Miquel Dewever-Plana, Carlos Javier Ortiz, Massimo Mastrorillo and Lara Ciarabellini. Published by The Aftermath Project, 2012.

This book, remarkable for its in-depth, sensitive, and artful investigations, succeeds at fulfilling Sara Terry's intention when founding The Aftermath Project — to create new dialog about war, in which telling the story of its consequences is as important as studying the trajectory of the war itself. Terry, also a photojournalist, covered the aftermath of the Bosnian War from 2000 to 2005. Each year, The Aftermath Project distributes 400 copies of its book of award-winning projects to U.S. senators, journalism programs, peace-building organizations, curators, editors, and industry professionals. A photo-based high school curriculum that addresses aftermath and visual literacy issues is also available at no cost to international educators.

We are inundated by images of war and violence, but we have a choice — even a responsibility — about where to focus our attention. War is Only Half the Story is a meaningful option. It moves us to connect with our humanity and our privilege. It is from that individual place, that a dialog can begin, and peace can grow.—JANELLE LYNCH

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JANELLE LYNCH is a photographer, teacher, and freelance writer. She is also a 2012–13 Fellow at The Writers’ Institute, CUNY Graduate Center. www.janellelynch.net.

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