Anastasia Photo opened Ron Haviv's work “Testimony” on November 1st and will run the exhibit through to January 31st.
The exhibition was terrible; the images that have been burned into our collective conscience are remembered and haunt us. Blood and fire. Haviv has been traveling the world documenting humanity at it's most base and it's most triumphant. “Testimony” depicts three genocides, two revolutions, an imperialist takeover and a war in a 700 sqft gallery. The whole exhibit is a punch in the gut.
This is Haviv's first retrospective, and it showcases his superb eye and abilities. The prints are all objectively and compositionally beautiful. Beyond the obvious subject matter; Haviv's strength is in his colors, if the viewer could set aside their humanity the exhibition is a lesson on chromatic expression.
It's best to focus first on the easiest to digest prints, “Burkas (2001)” simply shows colorful Burkas out to dry, while “Girl In Blue (2007)” is just that - a myriad of blues. The Libyan revolution is shown in all it's romantic glory. Rebels victoriously stand upon the golden excesses of their despotic leaders, rifles in the air.
The pictures of war share characteristics. Soldiers smoke while they wait. If there are guns they are either raised in a pose of victory or cradled simply. All the scenes of conflict are impossible to remove from their time. Arkan pompously held a tiger cub up to the camera in 1991. His troops hid behind balaclavas. Later they had no need for masks. In 1992 two look on as a third kicks a downed civilian – entitled “Ethnic Cleansing.”
The Lybian photographs stood out to me particularly, as I was connected with people on Twitter who were constantly sending pictures of success or death. When the rebels finally took Gaddafi's compound they sent a picture. They were posed underneath a statue crushing a U.S fighter. Their weapons were raised and their mouths were open in a scream of exaltation, the killing and dying temporarily forgotten. The image's power shone through the cracked screen of my phone.
This illustrates an argument that has been going on for a while now. Is war photography on the way out? The advent of twitter et al. has brought on an immediacy of pictures and video that bring us into the war. It is vital that we know what is happening as it is happening. Is there a need for large cameras and bulky backpacks full of equipment when the soldiers carry smart phones? Snapping pictures of dead enemies. Snapping pictures of living friends.
There should be no need for war photographers when basically anyone can show in a moment everything that needs to be said in 140 characters.
Haviv currently exhibits as fine art. Those wars are over. The images lose none of their power. The dust stuck on the sweat and blood. The couple kiss surrounded by desolation - “Kiss of Victory (1991).” The audience is forced to remember, yet this audience also looks on from the artistic perspective and approves. Haviv has proven the detractors wrong.
Review by John Hutt
Photographs by Tanya Kiseleva