Rather stupidly, I was late in getting to this exhibition, Human Rights, Human Wrongs, at the Photographers’ Gallery, London. I wouldn’t call it a pleasure but it was certainly worth the visit for other reasons.
Human Rights, Human Wrongs is a 2-floor, extensive show of densely-packed images from conflict zones from 1945 to about 2000. ‘Conflict zones’ does not necessarily mean war zones: the struggle for human rights is, as you would guess from the title, strongly represented too.
The first gallery deals with the immediate aftermath of war and armed conflict. We don’t see the fighting and there is no glorification of war (thank goodness). Instead it feels more like a visual accountant assessing the costs, but in terms of human bodies and moral degradation.
The second gallery is about conflict of a different kind – civil conflict and the fight for rights or the domination of beliefs. The choice of images emphasizes just how much physical and moral force needs to be applied, by all sides in the conflict, to support or overcome ingrained attitudes, the status quo and vested interests.
The whole exhibition is a presentation of curated evidence, and like any good show leaves the viewer to draw their own conclusions from this evidence. For me, it shows a fundamental truth that, at an animal level, humans are easier to kill than to live with in peaceful coexistence. Yet the Declaration of Human Rights displayed on the gallery’s walls show that our species is capable of more than killing, that ink is more powerful than blood. I also noticed the = sign used on the forehead of some protesters during the American civil rights movement: we should all use this symbol on our keyboards a little more!
Well done to the Photographers’ Gallery for re-invigorating the documentary photograph.
Human Rights Human Wrongs is at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, UK until 6 April 2015.
An essay on the struggle for human rights is on the Photographers’ Gallery blog