The jovial crowd gathered outside the Fovea Exhibitions Beacon Gallery had all the festive atmosphere of a neighborhood picnic sandwiched between the gallery's facade and the parked cars on Main St. The lighthearted nature of the crowd belied the heavy matter on display inside. It Is Our War brings together the work of Chris Hondros, Todd Heisler and Suzanne Opton.
Hondros and Heisler are photojournalists, and their work presented here track their documentation of the action and affects of the war in Iraq.
Hondros' contribution is a series of images that chronicle a tragic encounter in Tal Afar between an American patrol, and a car packed with a young Iraqi family. The caption below the photos state that the scene depicted lasted all of 15 seconds. A small monitor to the side of the piece constantly plays a slide show of all the images taken by Hondros of the incident, while select images from the sequence fill one wall of the gallery.
Heisler's Final Salute series chronicles the return burial burial of the remains of American soldiers killed in the war. Captions below the images give a narrative of the scenes, including one woman camped out on an air mattress in front of her husband's coffin while a Marine held vigil the night before his burial.
Suzanne Opton's work is on the fine art side of the fence, and as we entered the gallery, she commented on the unusual aspect of her work being shown in a context among photojournalists. But Opton's Soldier series has become another document within the greater dossier of chronicling the human affects of this war. The world that Opton portrays is one of remove, and reflection. Her world is controlled, crafted. Opton's images are installed in a smaller gallery just behind the larger space that carries Hondros' and Heisler's work. The separation allows for a cleansing of some sort, but certainly not a washing away of what you see in the front space. The presence of her photographs in this exhibit is a necessary addition to the whole, and in this context, they take on a heavenly surreal quality. These pieces don't divert your thoughts from the subject at hand, but they give you space to reflect on the entire exhibit. Opton's work also brings the exhibit full circle, where voice is given to the experience of the returned American soldiers, the families of their deceased comrades, and the Iraqi civilians caught in the middle of the conflict.
It's a given that the subject matter of this show is intense. If someone was to say, "Yeah, I want to create a show that's going to shock and shake an audience", this would be the default subject matter. Reality trumps Art in the game of creating horrific and affecting imagery.
Seeing this exhibit was affecting and emotional for me. There is a powerful thrust of both the content and presentation in this exhibit, complete with meaning that, by comparison, makes most other work exhibited in Beacon feel like crafty diversion.
With its first two exhibits, Fovea is already an essential addition to the offerings of Beacon's Main St.