war photographer and the art of bearing witness

February 4, 2008

today in the intro course we are looking at the first of three films we will see this semester, war photographer. i show this film not only because it is powerful and inspiring, but especially because it raises the notion of bearing witness to the world around us. “witnessing” can be understood as a specific form of artistic practice that often exists on the margins of the mainstream art world, but that occasionally takes center stage when it is well done. one of the best examples is alfredo jaar. site santa fe recently held a fantastic exhibition of work on the disappeared in latin america. one of my faves is this show is oscar munoz whose videos are astounding for their simplicity and power. when watching war photographer, notice that natchwey is not using digital images, they are analogue. i think it is worth considering the possibilities of digital media as a significant tool in the art of witnessing. yet examples of digital witnessing are hard to find, and with good reason. some current debates revolve around notions of “truth” and “authenticity” in the relationship of digital media to the world. it should be noted, and anyone who has had some good art history courses should know this- that almost every form of technological development in the arts has been met with resistance when it comes to its ability to portray “truth.” painting, photography, film/video-they have all have to earn their spots as producers of knowledge. currently i think it is network technology that has the most promise to not only tell us “truths” about our world, but also to shift our various cultural assumptions about what “truth” is. so-without continuing on into derrida, baudrillard, zizek and others, i think .net artists have done some of the best work so far. for example take a look at the rrf projects or the recent turbulence commission superfund 365. importantly, war photographer is a tough film to watch-and maybe that reveals something crucial about why we choose to bear witness or not.



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