The War Boys

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Neil Harrison speaks to Open Eye Gallery‘s Artistic Director, Lorenzo Fusi, ahead of the forthcoming exhibition Tim Hetherington: You Never See Them Like This.

From Infidel by Tim Hetherington

It is an enduring truth about the nature of war that human stories are routinely overlooked in favour of an often-intangible grand narrative. Now, one war photographer’s exploration of intimate narratives within the everyday life of modern warfare forms the basis of a new exhibition at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.

Merseyside-born Tim Hetherington was a multi World-Press-Prize-winning war photographer and documentary maker, who was tragically killed along with three fellow journalists whilst working in the Libyan city of Misrata in 2011.

The new show, Tim Hetherington: You Never See Them Like This, derives its title from observations he made during his year spent embedded with American soldiers in Afghanistan’s deadly Korengal Valley during 2007 and 2008. From this project came perhaps Hetherington’s most celebrated pieces of work—the acclaimed feature length documentary Restrepo (co-produced and directed with Sebastian Junger), and the book Infidel, upon which the forthcoming exhibition is partly based. The gallery’s Artistic Director, Lorenzo Fusi, explains further,

I had been thinking about presenting Tim’s work in Liverpool for quite some time and it became even more important to do so since he passed away. The time seemed now ripe for a tribute—and not solely in response to his tragic death. We can now look at his work with some distance and measure his many achievements, not only emotionally”.

“The show focuses on some of the projects accomplished by Tim shortly before he died. These represent a concluded body of work. Infidel(the photographic series) and the video-installation Sleeping Soldiersare inter-connected as they were shot in the same location, and at the same time. The video, Diary (2010), completes the presentation, framing the above works within a broader context that is Tim’s entire career and continuous quest for finding meaning in his profession or, rather, in the way he was conducting himself in a war zone or areas of conflict”.

Relaxing in a war zone: US soldiers pass the 
time in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley
Returning to the show’s title, it is reported by Junger that, whilst recording Sleeping Soldiers, Hetherington also remarked “…when they’re asleep they look like little boys. They look the way their mothers probably remember them”. It is clear that work such as this is far from ‘traditional’ photojournalism. Tim Hetherington actively distances his subjects from their ‘warrior’ personas, instead portraying them intimately as vulnerable, emotional, bored, fearful, human—“little boys”. Does his work in particular, therefore, lend itself to exhibition? Is it journalism or art? It is obvious that Lorenzo does not favour such labels:

“The ambivalence and universality of these images was, in first instance, the reason why I was attracted to this body of work and these are particularly suitable for a gallery presentation. To be frank, one needs to know nothing about Afghanistan and the political motivations that led these American soldiers to the Korengal valley to fully appreciate and unpack the complex interplay of emotions and social dynamics [that] Tim’s photos convey”.
“I want Open Eye Gallery to be a site for visual culture; this includes “art” and photojournalism, as they are both expressions of the times we live in and the cultural and intellectual responses we produce in response [to] the crisis we create for ourselves. I am up against any dogmatic reading and interpretation of this culture and the areas that interest me the most are grey and uncertain—I am highly suspicious of any self-assertive category”.

Immersive experience

The photographs on display appear courtesy of Magnum Photos and The Tim Hetherington Trust. Lorenzo explains how the gallery aims to provide an extra dimension to an already successful body of work,

“[The Show] gravitates around a central three-channel video installation that represents an immersive experience. The photos have no frames or glazing and greatly vary in size. You are continuously pulled inside the images and then you are offered some distance for reflection. The show concludes with Diary displayed on a monitor, which is a moment of intimacy—as if Tim would be whispering to your ears his most intimate and personal reflections”.

“I think Tim is a great moral, professional and human example for us all. Until a comprehensive survey of Tim’s oeuvre [is] staged I think our show will be a seminal event and reference point for anybody interested in exploring his work further”.

Tim Hetherington: You Never See Them Like This is at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, from 6th September – 24thNovermber 2013, for more information visit

Neil Harrison is studying Social History at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is an aspiring journalist and a terrible guitar player. Read his blog LooseRiverand follow him on Twitter @LooseRiver

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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