PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: War Porn


Book Review War Porn By Christoph Bangert Reviewed by Karen Jenkins For all that he has seen, covering war and natural disaster in Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Gaza, Christoph Bangert grapples with the dueling impulses of revelation and suppression. He uses the term ‘self-censorship’ to describe the manner by which the photographs of horrific violence, death and destruction gathered in this book have been passed over, time and again by both himself and the publications that employ him. With this book, Bangert was determined to circumvent this filter and show it all...

War Porn. By Christoph Bangert.
Kehrer Verlag, 2014.
 
War Porn
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

War Porn
By Christoph Bangert
Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, 2014. 192 pp., 100 color illustrations, 4¾x6¼". 

For all that he has seen, covering war and natural disaster in Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Gaza, Christoph Bangert grapples with the dueling impulses of revelation and suppression. He uses the term ‘self-censorship’ to describe the manner by which the photographs of horrific violence, death and destruction gathered in this book have been passed over, time and again by both himself and the publications that employ him. With this book, Bangert was determined to circumvent this filter and show it all; thereby also challenging the self-censorship behaviors of all who consider looking. He titled the collection War Porn, a deliberate provocation and appropriation that links his work to a reviled category of images rooted in both secrecy and the consequences of exposure. When depicting wartime brutality and torture, photographs such as those from Abu Ghraib Prison were first used as private trophies and instruments of humiliation and control. When such images come to light, they can also provide witness to such criminal and ethically abhorrent acts. The label has since been broadly applied, to call out exploitative depictions and salacious viewing of human suffering, and has been used to dismiss and disparage Bangert’s work.


War Porn. By Christoph Bangert. Kehrer Verlag, 2014.

Nothing about War Porn’s outer appearance prepares you for its contents. Measuring only 4 ¾ x 6 ¼ inches, with an open spine binding between unfinished boards, the cover is marked only with the book’s title and photographer’s name in an old typewriter font. While its designers suggest that these elements lend it a handmade, journal-like feel, to me this presentation has both the chilling restraint of a classified report and the look of illicit goods, kept under brown paper wraps. Page after page lays out photographs of broken and bloodied bodies, the dead and the barely alive, on pavements and trash piles, hospital beds and institutional corridors. And indeed, the experience of looking at such graphic depictions of human suffering and the bodily destruction of civilian and soldier, men, women and children, summons all manner of conflicting feelings — from a responsibility to see and respond, to a visceral sense of violation and disrespect. Throughout the book, Bangert also includes many image spreads hidden from immediate view by perforated seams along the page edges that force the reader to more actively choose to look further by ripping them open.

War Porn. By Christoph Bangert. Kehrer Verlag, 2014.
War Porn. By Christoph Bangert. Kehrer Verlag, 2014.

Bangert calls War Porn an experiment, a conversation-starter about dealing with horrific images of war like those it presents. While his essay touches upon salient aspects of contemporary critical thought about war photography (of which there is of late, a great deal), he also writes, “I’m leaving all these clever thoughts for others to discuss. I’m a photographer. I feel I have an obligation to publish my images.” This step back belies the fact that this book is decidedly not just about providing access to challenging work. Given the steady stream of similarly graphic photographs of death and destruction that daily populates online news outlets, blogs and social media, it seems Bangert could have found another way. Yet he chose to gather the most horrific images he has made, on the criterion of past omission rather than aesthetic judgment (“These are not my best pictures”) and publish them in a book, this deeply personal book.

War Porn. By Christoph Bangert. Kehrer Verlag, 2014.

Bangert is driven by the desire to create a lasting collection of images that might attain for the events they chronicle the recognition of recorded history. He is disturbed that he does not remember some of the images published in War Porn, and also adamantly rejects a kind of willful forgetting that hits close to home. In writing about his Nazi grandfather’s wartime experience in the book’s essay, he shares: “He must have seen unimaginable things. All he ever talked about was his horse.” This profound disavowal finds its counterpoint in Bangert’s drive for inclusion and transparency above all else. For Bangert, to look at these photographs is to acknowledge what has happened, what has been done and to share in culpability, and to this point, he builds an affecting, haunting case. Yet while censorship can indeed enact a broad and sinister erasure, he does not attain his best lasting history simply by revealing that stifled collection of the worst of the worst. For Bangert, the best war photography is a protest, a call to action, a memorial and insistent antidote to the type of memory scrubbing that so cuts to the bone for him. It also requires a shaping and culling lacking in War Porn. I put off slicing open its sealed off pages for several viewings, dreading what I imagined to be an escalated horror. Instead, these otherwise shocking, painful images felt like more of the same, revealing an editorial blind spot throughout that undercuts Bangert’s deeply-held and laudable aims.—KAREN JENKINS

KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.

No comments:

Post a Comment