The Imperial War Museum has already launched an engaging programme of contemporary art, and its latest exhibitions looks at contemporary war photography with a focus on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Donovan Wylie is a photographer who grew up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and has recently visited Afghanistan, so is familiar with both older and more recent military operations. By drawing comparisons between the two he is able to sum up similarities between war zones, irrespective of the nature of the conflict.
For example, he has photographed a watch tower in Northern Ireland and one in Afghanistan. Though the rolling green hills of the former are a stark contrast to the desert landscape of Afghanistan the scene is virtually identical, as an easily assembled tower is placed on the high ground so that soldiers have a clear view of the surrounding area.
Wylie further draws comparisons between the Maze prison and the Afghan green zone, plus parallels with the automated watch towers placed in the Canadian Arctic to guard against any Northerly incursions — a hold-over from the Cold War era. His most surreal photograph is of a Burger King in the green zone surrounded by blast walls — a taste of home yet nowhere near as welcoming.
In the gallery next door, two photographers focus on the Iraq conflict. Mike Moore has captured startling moments such as British troops launching a grenade attack on an armoured personnel carrier and the devastation of a missile strike, made all the more emotive by a sandstorm which has turned the sky a blood red.
Lee Craker’s black and white photographs include a rubble-strewn Iraqi palace that still retains a certain sense of grandiosity and intimate portraits of American soldiers. Some of these profile pictures can seem a little too staged but the image of an army Captain whose face was badly burned after an improvised explosive device attack captures the often horrific injuries incurred by troops.
Both these exhibitions take different approaches to war, and though Mike Moore’s work is the most engaging, Donovan Wylie’s is ultimately the more thought-provoking.
For more war related exhibitions, check out the excellent Unseen Enemy at the National Army Museum