‘Conflict Zone’ photo exhibit shows war through the lenses of conflict photographers

The deaths of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington in Libya and the maiming of Joao Silva in Afghanistan have cast a light on the dangerous work of conflict photographers.

That attention continues with a photo exhibit that opened over the weekend in Chicago. "Conflict Zone" features the work of Hondros, Silva, Andrea Bruce, Jason Howe, Greg Marinovich and other conflict photographers.

By looking at war through their lenses, the exhibit illustrates how the battlefield affects soldiers and civilians. And it shows how these photojournalists expose themselves to capture these images, as New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller described in a column published Sunday:

"They need a sustained line of sight to frame their photographs; a reliable source is never enough. And they cannot avert their eyes; they have to let the images in, no matter how searing or disturbing. Robert Capa’s famous advice to younger photographers — 'Get closer' — translates in combat to 'get more vulnerable,' both literally and emotionally."

Here is a selection of photographs submitted for the Conflict Zone exhibit, along with reactions from some of the people who attended the opening on Saturday. (We are publishing these photos with the permission of the exhibit organizers; people shared their reactions via our Tumblr.)

"Conflict Zone" is on display in downtown Chicago through June 18. A nonprofit group called the Independence Fund organized the exhibit and is seeking donations to show it around the country. A portion of the donations will go to a fund for Silva.

After a tip from an Iraqi informant, U.S. Marines staged a nighttime raid against suspected insurgents in the town of Mahmudiyah, a hotbed of anti-occupation activity. The targets were suspected of being involved with planning and executing IED attacks against coalition forces. (Jason P. Howe)

"Having seen various collections of combat photography, I thought I knew what to expect with Conflict Zone. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a diverse selection of photography and art that does what any successful exhibit strives to do: appeal to the human experience. Conflict Zone portrays a wide range of the social and psychological conditions that are inherent in war, and will leave the viewer with a greater understanding of what it’s like to be 'in the shit.'"

-Joel Chaverri

U.S. soldiers prepare to enter the home of an improvised explosive device maker in southwest Baghdad, Nov. 7, 2004. (Bill Putnam)

"I feel this gallery is needed now more than ever. It shows the faces of the photographers who put their lives in danger as well as the images each photographer sees. People need to know what war photographers are risking their life for since so many images go unseen. The gallery honors both the photographers and the soldiers who fight."

-Keri Wiginton

When nature doesn't cooperate, Marines create their own earthquakes. A confirmed insurgency stronghold in Fallujah came to understand the awesome firepower available to U.S. Marines. (Cpl. Joel Chaverri)

"I was particularly struck by the scenes captured by photographer Holly Pickett: women, properly covered, gathered to learn, something, anything; local Arab men gathered to dance to a drum, in spite of the war around them; and the power of the ball to provide boys with diversion, in front of a huge bombed-out building. The photographer managed to show the human spirit, peeking through, humanity visible."

-Eva Slawson

"Widows March": Draped in mourning veils and abayahs, over 500 women led a march in Sadr City against the violence plaguing their neighborhood. "The people who pay for the violence are the women here," said Khafaji, whose brother was killed in March. They sprayed water over themselves for relief from the mid-afternoon heat. (Andrea Bruce Woodall/The Washington Post)

"Very impressive. My son served two tours in Iraq and came home safely. I am so thankful. My prayers and thoughts are with the young men and women who have given of their body and soul for the safety of United States. Since he never talked about what he saw, these photographs help me to see some of pain that went on there."

-Bettye Jo Hansbarger

British and Afghan troops battle the Taliban. (Jason P. Howe)

"Considering the timing of where we are at in terms of celebrating the valor of our military veterans and lauding the recent accomplishments of our active military in Afghanistan, this exhibit was timely and poignant."

-Levi Moore

A U.S. and Iraqi soldier pound fists after catching and detaining a suspected insurgent in the desert scape of Iraq's Sallahadin province. From "Yesterday's War, Today's Iraq," an ongoing series documenting Iraq and Iraqis as U.S. forces withdraw from the country and media interest wanes. (Ayman Oghanna)

"As a member of the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home 2011 committee, I am thrilled to see these powerful photographs of our current fighting forces. One goal of the Welcome Home 2011 folks is to 'pass the baton' to their younger veteran counterparts. This exhibit is a great bridge between generations. I appreciate the generosity of these brave and skilled photographers in sharing their work."

-Debby Preiser

Occupational therapist Kristi Repp talks to Lance Cpl. Justin Gaertner about pain he is having in and around his elbow at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Earlier in the day Gaertner had surgery on his arm, which was injured when by an IED when he was sweeping for explosives in Afghanistan. He lost his legs in the explosion. (Kathleen Flynn/St. Petersburg Times)

"This has been a powerful and important exhibit that needs to be shown all over the country. The costs of war are more than in the battlefield, but for those who have returned home as well."

-Paul Alt

A U.S. Marine loses his calm while capturing suspected Syrian fighters. (Andrea Bruce Woodall/The Washington Post)

"Powerful opportunity to begin or continue the dialogue on the timeless condition of the veteran. One cannot escape the war zone unscathed or wounded in some manner or form. This exhibit attempts to communicate that to the person who has not been there, done that."

-Mike Jager

(Joao Silva)

"Without exception the exhibit captures the effect of emotional and physical trauma. I thank everyone who contributed to the exhibit and being brave enough to share their personal experiences."

-Mike Brostowitz

A terrified Iraqi girl screams after her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers after the car they were driving in failed to stop and came toward soldiers despite warning shots during a dusk patrol January 18, 2005 in Tal Afar, Iraq. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

"Getting images from this many journalists located in so many places in the world presented a daunting challenge in the least. Yet, in three short months from conception, Conflict Zone was implemented. None of this would have been possible without the tools of modern technology, and this, more than anything in the show presents the rapidly changing face of coverage in the Conflict Zone. My heart pangs that Chris Hondros was perhaps the Conflict Zone contributor most keenly aware of this, and the one whose guidance and input will be most sorely missed. I hope the exhibit goes on to honor his intellect in a suitable manner."

-Steve Danyluk, one of the organizers of the exhibit

Kenny Irby, Poynter's senior faculty for visual Journalism and diversity, selected the photos shown here.

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Correction: The photo taken by Joao Silva was misattributed and had an incorrect caption. Both errors have been corrected.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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