In his 2003 essay, David Campany comments that:
“One might easily surmise that photography has of late inherited a major role as undertaker, summariser or accountant. It turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened totting up the effects of the world’s activity.” (‘Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problem of “Late Photography”’ (in Campany (ed.), 2007)
This ‘aftermath’ approach dates back to the war photographers of the American Civil War and the Crimean War (1853–56), because of technological limitations of the time. Because of the large plate cameras and slow emulsions, it was not possible to photograph actual combat. Their images focused instead on portraits of soldiers, camp scenes and the aftermath of battles and skirmishes. Their images could not yet be reproduced en masse in the illustrated press, but some of these photographs were used as the basis for woodcut engravings for publications such as The Illustrated London News and Harper’s Weekly.
Although technology today makes it possible – though still difficult – to capture the heat of war and atrocities, this is not necessarily the most effective way of portraying the horrors of violence.
Examples of photographers using the ‘late’ approach in contemporary landscape include:
- Joel Meyerowitz’s Aftermath images of Ground Zero in New York
- Richard Misrach ‘s images of the American Desert show the aftermath of human activity but in a beautified distilled large format.
- Sophie Ristelhueber ‘s aerial images of the Afghan conflict show the scars left on the landscape
- Paul Seawright Hidden cold ‘objective’ images of battle sites and minefields in Afghanistan
- Willie Doherty made very evocative images of the left detritus from conflicts during the Troubles and in the present day.
Other photographers have focused on the precursors – the tension in anticipation of violence. “not the ‘theatre of war’ but its rehearsal studio” (Campany, 2008, p.46). :
- An-My Lê’s (to do) series 29 Palms (2004) documents US marine training manoeuvres at a range used to prepare soldiers ahead of deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin in Chicago (2005) (to do) examine an Israeli military training ground
- Paul Shambroom’s project Security (2003−07) studied the simulated training sites that are used by the US emergency services and Department of Homeland Security, nicknamed ‘Disaster City’ and ‘Terror Town’.
- Sarah Pickering in UK has photographed training grounds for the fire and police service. Her images contain no people, aiming to seem like a film set ready for the action.