war and the camera


Slavery is America’s permanent Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, in which our country carries a cup it can never pass. The closest that white America has ever come to experiencing what James Baldwin described as “the Negro’s past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape … fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone” was in 1861, when the country tore itself in half over race and money. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s incredibly affecting “Photography and the American Civil War” is a shocking view of a pain so deep, destruction in blood and psyche, that seeing these 200 or so photographs installed in eleven galleries amounts to a silent scream. Viewers walk through this show—its galleries painted charcoal, its walls covered in canvas—in hushed silences, reverent, shaken, respectful of the ineffable suffering and almost mystical sickness depicted. D. H. Lawrence’s words come to mind: “Doom! Doom! Doom! Something seems to whisper it in the very dark tress of America. Doom!” I do not remember experiencing a more poignant and pathos-filled photography exhibition at any museum.

more from Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine here.