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WAR AT THE BARBICAN
Silk Street, London
17 October 2008 - 25 January 2009

Reviewed by Cardinal Cox


Write Dope on Pnuk part 60

Three linked exhibitions at the City of London's Barbican Centre, all linked through photography and war.

First is the retrospective of the work of photojournalist Gerda Taro (1910-1937). Born to a Polish Jewish family in Germany, she became a refugee in Paris after being arrested for taking part in an anti-Nazi demonstration in Leipzig in 1933. In Paris she met Robert Capa.

In August 1936 the couple went to Spain where the Civil War had started less than a month before. Her first photographs, taken in Barcelona, include men at the window of the PSUC (Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia) building. Graffiti on the glass includes PCC (the Catalan Communist Party) and the slogan UHP - Unite Proletarian Brothers. Other pictures include a portrait of the Italian Vittorio Vidali - aka Commandante Carlos - leader of the 5th Regiment and members of the FAI, the Spanish Anarchist Federation. After Barcelona they went to the Aragon front and then Madrid. The next year they returned and Taro continued taking photographs that included Gustavo Duran - a composer before the war - who appears in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'. Plus members of the CNT (the trade union militia) and attendees of the International Congress of Writers. In July, Taro died in an accident during the retreat from Franco's forces at Brunete. Her body was taken back to Paris where she was proclaimed an anti-Fascist martyr.

The second exhibition focuses on the work of the better known Hungarian Robert Capa (1913-1954). From 1936 through to 1939 he covered the Civil War in Spain, and the exhibition covers three particular sequences: The death of a Loyalist on the Cordoba front; The Battle of Rio Segre (1938); Refugees of Barcelona (1939). In 1938 he also photographed the Far Eastern precursor to World War 2, the Japanese invasion of China. He even photographed Chiang Kai-shek.

In June 1944, Capa was with the first wave of troops on Omaha Beach as part of the Normandy invasion. The last section concerns the American occupation of Leipzig in April 1945, and the shooting of one member of a machine gun position by a sniper.

Downstairs is work by four contemporary artists, rather than photojournalists, who draw from the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most interesting, to myself, was Omar Fast's 'The Casting'. This is a film projected on two screens on both sides with a single soundtrack. Thus we have the multi-layered story of an American soldier accidentally shooting a civilian; him telling this story to a German girlfriend; telling both the story and telling the story of telling the story to a psychiatrist; and telling about all those to a group of (possibly) film makers. Most of the shots are posed still but not photographs.

 

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