Faces full of emotion, scenes filled with violence and views of dramatic landscapes are scattered throughout the photographs currently on display in the Tisch Gallery in the Aidekman Arts Center. These moving images of war, hunger, corruption and power are a collection of the work of 16 journalists from VII Photo Agency. VII, founded in 2001, is a group of concerned photographers. Not only do they take amazing photographs, but these men and women also photograph with the hope of bringing awareness and change to some of the most pressing matters the world is facing.
Through their work, VII photographers accomplish their mission to “document conflict — environmental, social and political, both violent and nonviolent — to produce an unflinching record of the injustices created and experienced by people caught up in the events they describe,” according to the Tisch Gallery. Their images are always powerful and at times disturbing.
The exhibit is split into four sections, each displayed on different colored walls. The sections are titled “Endless War,” “Never Again…,” “Displays of Power” and “Lives in the Balance.” The photographs are all unframed and spaced unconventionally, and their unusual arrangement reflects the emotions conveyed by the subjects in the images. It also contributes to the feelings of uneasiness and displacement, which enhance the viewing experience.
One outstanding work in the exhibition is a photograph taken by James Nachtwey on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. Nachtwey captured the World Trade Center’s South Tower falling, engulfed in clouds of dust and smoke, with debris flying everywhere. In the photograph’s foreground, a cross can be seen on top of a building, and it creates a striking contrast of two different subjects within the same photo.
Another notable work in the exhibition is Nachtwey’s photograph that was taken in Sudan in 1993. In it, a starving, naked man is crawling on his hands and knees in order to make it to an emergency feeding compound. His skin looks as if it was wrapped around his bones. It is heartbreaking to see, but that is the point for the photographers who hope to engage the viewer’s emotions.
These images are meant to have a strong impact on the people who view them. And for this exhibition, the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” holds true; it has to be seen, not read about. The works in the exhibition incite in the viewer an almost immediate emotional reaction — it would be difficult to instill such a strong reaction from black words on a white background. Indeed, these pictures are able to transport people to moments they would otherwise never witness.
While the great majority of the photographs are depressing, there are still sparks of hope throughout the exhibit. Fatma Jaber, a woman photographed by Franco Pagetti in Lebanon in 2008, has an expression on her face that conveys courage and strength, even though she was forced to leave her village after it was occupied by the Israeli army.
The group of photographs titled “Displays of Power” also brings a slightly hopeful tone to the exhibition. While some of the photographs contain scenes as equally violent as the other three groups of works, some of these pictures show political leaders and evoke a sense of possibility for change.
One example is a photograph of President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Committee meeting in 2007, taken by Christopher Morris. Obama’s mouth, neck and shoulders fill the frame. His serious expression in his mouth hints at the weightiness of the matters he is about to address.
This exhibit is powerful and moving. It displays a side to war, poverty and hunger that news channels rarely show. It is uncensored, educational and definitely worth the twenty minutes (or hour and twenty minutes) needed to visit the Tisch Gallery and experience the works firsthand.