Book Review: War is Only Half the Story
War is Only Half the Story
Review by: Lindsey M. Burgess
Released in January 2018, War is Only Half the Story commemorates the ten-year anniversary of The Aftermath Project by showcasing the ground-breaking work of over fifty world-renowned visual storytellers. Founded by Sara Terry in 2008, the project is a documentary photography program that supports post-conflict storytelling. Each year, The Aftermath Project awards grants to photographers who are committed to telling the other side of the story of conflict, the narratives of survival, resilience, and strength to learn how to live again. Photographers such as Nina Berman, Andrea Bruce, and Jim Goldberg are just a few of the fifty grant winning photographers documenting people attempting to restore peace when everything around them is in pieces; and to restore the civility torn by war. War is Only Half the Story also includes essayists, Clare Cavanagh, Donald Weber and Nobel Laureate Poet Wislawa Szymoborska.
Poignant and probing, War is Only Half the Story, gives readers intimate insight into world’s torn by violence. Though the conflict itself may only last for a certain historical moment, the remnants and aftermath never truly fade. Beyond coping with trauma and death, there’s a story of learning to live again. The photographers in this project, through creativity and deep understanding of the space around them, give visibility to this process. In an analysis of Wislawa Szymoborska’s work, Clara Cavanagh writes, “Poems and photographs are often charged with attempting to stop time, to isolate single instants from the inevitable temporal sequence that surrounds and drives them. The poem, like the photo it describes, suggests other possibilities for both media. A moment removed from time’s motion invites us to consider disasters, and their aftermaths differently.”
The two hundred sixty-seven-page book opens with a foreword from Sara Terry, the mastermind behind The Aftermath Project. She discusses the inspiration behind the project, retelling her experience covering the aftermath of the Bosnian War, “I went to Bosnia with a desire to document that incredibly difficult period when humans move out of war’s desperate struggle to survive and begin another equally might struggle – that of learning to live again…I became convinced that we need post-conflict images to remind us of our humanity – to testify that war is not the final word on who we are as human beings, nor the final image of our spirit.”
For the tenth anniversary, Sara and co-editor Teun Van Der Heijden decided to take a nouveau approach on the conversation by using the words of Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska as a thematic to the images throughout the book, instead of putting them in chronological order. “Using her post-conflict verbal imagery, we created five themes for the book, and then edited from across our rich archives of 53 grant winners and finalists,” says Terry. With Szymborska’s words guiding readers through the visual stories in the book, Terry wanted readers to focus on the images on the page, not its origins. Terry remarks, “We let the images speak to each other, in coversations framed by Szymborska’s poetry. I believe we’ve created a dialogue that’s never been heard before, a post-conflict visual symphony, one that invites you to listen over and over again.”
The Aftermath Project continues to curate, through visual storytelling, conversations surrounding the aftermath of historical atrocities. Through this medium, societies can better understand what post-war life is like.