Few photographs in recent years have had the explosive impact of the images of detainees being abused by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A selection of these pictures that shocked the world will be on view at the International Center of Photography (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street) from September 17 through November 28, 2004, and will also be shown at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh from October 3, 2004 through January 2, 2005.
First revealed on CBS's 60 Minutes II on April 29, 2004, the photographs quickly began to proliferate on a number of Internet sites, and were subsequently published in the May 5, 2004 issue of The New Yorker with Seymour M. Hersh's article entitled "Torture at Abu Ghraib." From the covers of weekly news magazines to the front pages of national and local newspapers, the images began to invade the American consciousness.
Inconvenient Evidence: Iraqi Prison Photographs from Abu Ghraib will feature approximately 20 of these photographs. In addition, there will be a selection of pictures that reflect the response of Iraqi civilians to the appearance of those images.
The emergence of the Abu Ghraib photographs fundamentally calls into question the relationship between photography and war. Unlike traditional war photojournalism, the images were not created as documentation of atrocities, but were actually intended as instruments of maltreatment and sexual/cultural humiliation.
It was amateur digital photographs transmitted over the Internet that made the public aware of shocking human rights abuses and jolted our perception of the Iraqi conflict, something that signaled a sea change in the representation of war via image-making technology. We saw events unfolding directly—not through the lenses of “objective” observers—but through the eyes of the men and women who were involved.
As a result, issues of ethics, law, politics, leadership responsibility, the use of torture, and the role of electronic media have become even more immediate. These concerns, as well as the place of photography in documenting or constructing truth, must be reconsidered. This is an opportunity to reflect on Susan Sontag’s contention that “the photographs are us,” and to question if in fact “the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken.”
A brochure with a text by Seymour Hersh will accompany the exhibition. Inconvenient Evidence: Iraqi Prison Photographs from Abu Ghraib is organized ICP Chief Curator, Brian Wallis.
In conjunction with the exhibition, there will be a major symposium held in conjunction with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School. Panel participants will include Seymour Hersh, Luc Sante, David Levi Strauss, and Brian Wallis. The symposium is scheduled for November 9 at the Great Hall, Cooper Union, New York, NY.
This exhibition was co-organized by the International Center of Photography and The Andy Warhol Museum. It was made possible with support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.