BOOK REVIEW: Afterwar – Lori Grinker
We are all inexorably drawn to war. Tales of courage under adversity, heroism under fire, acts of selflessness and love, men in uniform and the pomp and technology of the military in action. It is at once fascinating, horrifying, shocking and guaranteed to provoke a response.
It is no wonder then, that war has always exerted a pull on photographers. Some go to make a name for themselves; others hoping their work might make a difference. Some go for the rush. Whatever the motivation, they are usually divided into two camps: those who look for the dramatic images of combat in the front line, and those who turn to the plight of the civilians caught in the crossfire.
New York based photographer Lori Grinker has uniquely found a different way to portray war. When the truces are signed and the guns fall silent, the press turns its attention elsewhere, but the sights, sounds, smells, relationships and losses are necessarily etched into the psyches of the combatants. While other photographers have concerned themselves with showing the man within the war, Grinker has strived to portray the war within the man.
Afterwar manages the substantial achievement of personalising the conflicts of a century. Men and women caught in the dehumanising chaos of war are left to reconcile their experiences with their own fundamental humanity. Some meet it head on, others try to file it away, and get on with their lives.
Readers looking for groundbreaking photography or iconic images will be disappointed with Afterwar, but they will also be missing the point. Allied with the testimony of her subjects in their own words, Grinker’s colour photographs achieve something that has eluded every other photographer: they deglamourise war. While each of the subjects is portrayed with incredible dignity the overall effect is unremittingly dark and depressing. War is hell.
Afterwar is elegantly designed, using a reverse chronology to take us back from a taste of the recent war in Iraq through all the major conflicts of the past century to the First World War. It crosses continents, cultures and languages setting each conflict in context. Ostensibly each person in the book represents a survivor of war, but their experiences have necessarily robbed them of something precious, and mankind as a whole is diminished by what they went through. If there is any justice Afterwar will find its way to the desks of all those charged with calling men to arms.
Afterwar, Veterans from a World in Conflict is published by de.MO, and priced at £29.00. Hardback ISBN 0-9705768-7-0. 248 pages.This review was originally written for the Photographic Journal