As a medium, documentary photography allows viewers to find links between their lives and the one shown in the photograph while still reflecting the photographer’s vision. This crossover between documentary photography and art is being seen more and more in galleries, museums and art spaces internationally.

Farhad Ahrarnia, 'Untitled (US Soldier III)', 2008.

Farhad Ahrarnia, 'Untitled (US Soldier III)', 2008. Image courtesy of Impressions Gallery.

Bringing the War Back Home“, an exhibition that continues at Impressions Gallery until 14 November, depicts the blurring of boundaries between documentary photography and art. It was timed to occur with the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq and brings together a number of photographic responses that connect with conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The exhibition uses a new approach: utilising the techniques of war photography and including perspectives of women, non-combats, Iraqi and Afghan people.

Farhad Ahrarnia (Iran and Sheffield, UK). In his “US Soldiers” series Ahrarnia utilises photography, digital manipulation and embroidered textiles. He is interested in the cultural history of embroidery, so-called “hidden codes” that people stitch to fabric as way of personalising it. For his pieces Ahrarnia gathered from the Internet pictures of the U.S. soldiers that were killed in Iraq which he then digitally manipulated, printed onto cotton needlepoint fabric and finally embroidered by hand.

He explores the idea of “looking intently” or cheshm dookhtan (literally meaning “eye sewing” in Farsi, a widely spoken language in Iran and Afghanistan) as he uses the process of sewing as a way to commemorate and personalise soldiers in the photographs. The needle is sometimes left buried in the fabric to ensure that the violence that those young men have seen or been part of is not forgotten.

Sama Alshaibi (Iraq/Palestine). Alshaibi’s series “Between Two Rivers” features self portraits where she physically changes her body to create scars and other marks. She is doing so in order to reconstruct the violence suffered by Iraqi people on her own body. In this way she attempts to refuse the conformist photojournalistic representation of pain. The artist states that instead of playing on the suffering of the people she uses her own body, which she believes to be more just. Her series are inspired by traditional practice from Iraq of tribal scarification and the tricks of contemporary Iraqi hoax kidnappers.

The Repartation II, June 16, 2008 from the series The Day Nobody Died, 2008 (c) Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, "The Repartation II", June 16, 2008, from the series "The Day Nobody Died", 2008. Image courtesy of Impressions Gallery.

Lisa Barnard exhibits two series, “Blue Star Moms” and “Care Packages Series 1”. They both explore the relationship between mothers and children and communicative and connecting routes between home and the battle zone. The first series depicts portraits of women from a Blue Star Moms organisation who carry either pictures of their children or the official Blue Star flag. The artist’s second series captures mothers’ ideas of adding “a little bit of home” to the frontline by sending consumables to soldiers.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, who were embedded with British troops in Afghanistan, abandon the camera in favour of exposing large rolls of photographic paper to the sun for 20 seconds in their “Day That Nobody Died” series. They would do it in response to events such as a suicide bombing or the repatriation of a deceased soldier.

“Letters to Omar”, a series by Edmund Clark, reveals the censored correspondence to Omar Deghayes, a Libyan refugee and UK resident who was accused of Al-Qaeda membership and Taliban association.

Edmund Clark, 'Untitled', from "Letters to Omar", 2009 – 2010. Image courtesy of Impressions Gallery.

Kay May’s “Hawthorn Tree” depicts her interaction with a mother of a Royal Marine by incorporating pictures of family life (of the Marine’s childhood toys, for instance), Foreign Office communiqués and amateur digital images sent by the woman’s son from Afghanistan.

Asef Ali Mohammad has lived in the UK since 2002, arriving there from Pakistan. “Stories from Kabul” includes photographs of Kabul residents that he took when he travelled to his ancestral homeland for the first time. The series includes people from different professions and backgrounds: newscasters and security guards, beauticians and police officers. He also interviewed them, asking questions about the American presence in Afghanistan and how the subjects felt about it. The portraits are shown alongside these responses in an attempt to show how such conflict can influence personal lives.

Christopher Sims in his “Theatre of War: Pretend Villages of Iraq and Afghanistan” portrays the surreal world of fake Afghan and Iraqi villages built in America by the US military that act as training grounds for soldiers before deployment.

Peter van Agtmael presents images of graffiti created by US soldiers in toilets in Kuwait, at one of the transit points for troop movements in Iraq.

Chris Sims, 'Mosque with Golden Dome, Fort Irwin, California', 2006. Image courtesy of Impressions Gallery.


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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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