"Battlesight" shows the work of three photojournalists who were with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, these are not the images you normally see on television or in print publications. They are harsh, real and honest. And they are as much art as they are photojournalism.
Tim Cahill curated the exhibit and has gone out of his way to avoid having the show be viewed as making political statement. That's impossible, as any exhibit that is about war is political because there are few things more political than war. Nonetheless, overall, Cahill has succeeded. You should not leave the River Street Gallery saying things like how horrid is our involvement in these wars; nor will you rush out trying to enlist in military service in the hopes of keeping the world free from terrible people. The only people who might find an offensive message in this show are those who think war is a good thing and believes that wars are painless and free of horror.
This exhibit does not glorify war as it brings you into the suffering that is war. There are pictures of dead or wounded soldiers and marines. There are images of civilians - adults and children - who suffer as much as do the soldiers. "Battlesight" is ecumenical in the depiction of the tragedy of war.
But, again, I return to what I found the most compelling aspect of the show. There is an eerie beauty about the photographs individually and collectively. While I found myself being hypnotized by certain images - especially the 2007 photograph by Balazs Gardi which shows an Afghan man holding a wounded child - when I stood in the middle of the gallery and slowly turned 360-degrees I became immersed in the whole to the degree it felt like an out-of-body experience. The circle transported me not to Iraq or Afghanistan but to a surreal world where pain, fear and suffering was the norm. This place is called war.
It's rather strange that our society finds such images to be shocking or unique. It wasn't that long ago when similar images from Vietnam or World War II were on the front pages of newspapers and weekly magazines around the country. Showing the pain suffered in war is a tradition that dates back to Matthew Brady and the Civil War. There was a time when the public was offered unfiltered reporting on our young men and women who were dying and suffering in our name. Now it is all sanitized and the less-informed public is the loser.
Journalists like Balazs Gardi, Teru Kuwayama and Cheryl Diaz Meyer are not offering groundbreaking images. What is groundbreaking is that someone trusts the public enough to offer pictures that help us understand that war is harsh, painful and contradictory.
Thursday is Veterans Day. A way of honor our military is to attend "Battlesight." It is at the Arts Center of the Capital Region on River Street in downtown Troy through Dec. 19. It is organized by the Center for Documentary Arts at Sage Colleges in Albany and Troy. It should be seen.