Artist & Work

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Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

Adam Broomberg, born in 1970; Oliver Chanarin, born in 1971; live and work in London

 

 

In June 2008, Broomberg and Chanarin traveled to Afghanistan where they were embedded within British Army units on the front line in Helmand province. In place of their cameras, they took a roll of photographic paper contained inside a simple, lightproof cardboard box. They arrived during the deadliest month of the war. On the first day of their visit a BBC fixer was dragged from his car and executed. Elsewhere, nine Afghan soldiers were killed in a suicide attack. The following day, three British soldiers died, pushing the number of British combat fatalities to 100. Casualties continued until the fifth day when nobody died. In response to each of these events, and also to a series of more mundane moments such as a visit to the troops by the Duke of York and a press conference, all events a photographer would record, Broomberg and Chanarin instead unrolled a seven-meter section of photographic paper and exposed it to the sun for 20 seconds. The results deny the viewer the cathartic effect offered up by the conventional language of photographic responses to conflict and suffering.

 

Working in tandem with this deliberate evacuation of content are the circumstances of the work’s production: an absurd performance in which the British Army, unsuspectingly, played the lead role. Co-opted by the artists into transporting the box of photographic paper from London to Helmand, these soldiers helped in moving the container from one military base to another, be it on helicopters Hercules and Chinooks, buses, tanks and jeeps. In this performance, presented as a film, the box becomes an absurd, subversive object; its non-functionality sitting in quietly amused contrast to the functionality of the system that for a time served as its host. Like a barium test, the journey of the box becomes an analytical process revealing the dynamics of the machine in its quotidian details, from the logistics of war to the collusion between the media and the military. The Day Nobody Died comprises of a series of radically non-figurative, unique, action, photographs, offering a profound critique of conflict photography in the age of embedded Journalism and the current crisis in the concept of the engaged, professional witness.