The Day Nobody Died (detail), by Broomberg and Chanarin

SOURCE, the Belfast based contemporary photography magazine, has recently been considering how we can define (if at all) and think of conceptual photography.

The series WHAT IS CONCEPTUAL PHOTOGRAPHY is anchored by three well researched and neatly edited videos that canvas the opinions of artists, photographers, curators and critics.

I enjoyed learning about the work of John Hilliard in the first video. The surprise that conceptual photography – to which I will apply the adjectives non-figurative and self-referential – finds a welcome reception in art galleries and art festivals such as Documenta should be no surprise at all. People still expect representations of things in photography and as such representational photographs still dominate our visual culture, and especially our news culture.

The debate gets interesting is in the third video when it attaches itself to a specific body of work, The Day Nobody Died, by Broomberg and Chanarin.

In June of 2008, Broomberg and Chanarin traveled to Afghanistan to be embedded with British Army units on the front line in Helmand Province. Instead of making *traditional* photojournalistic images of the conflict, they rolled out seven metre sections of a roll of photographic paper and exposed it to the sun for 20 seconds. The Day Nobody Died is a refusal of photojournalism tropes and a question to audiences: what constitutes evidence in war, and in photography?

Broomberg and Chanarin make an effective challenge to the mechanisms at play in the embedding system – a system that routinely denies the public many accurate images of war, i.e. the wounded or dead soldier. Sean O’Hagan, photography critic for the Guardian, on the other hand, describes the project as an “arrogant” and “narcissistic” stunt.

Recommended viewing.

 

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