2016 - Ongoing
'War is the best thing that happened to man', my grandfather Bruce declared once while we watched the news together. Being a child, I did not understand his comment and it fell into silence. After he died, my mother gave me a worn-out Kodak paper box with taped up sides, filled with the documents from his time as a US army war photographer on Iwo Jima, Japan. 'See what you can do', she said. Like with my grandfather, her comment was not elaborated on.
This Kodak box revealed to me the atrocities of war, in a way that I have never seen before. I only knew Iwo Jima from the famous Raising of the Flag image. A heroic image like no other, but when I put the tattered Kodak box away, I began to understand. The image I had of the Second World War was the censored one.
From the moment the archive was given to me, I started to study its content. After having found one of the most important historians on this topic, I learned that this archive was not only new to me. It was revealing a time period and level of brutal honesty that only the people who experienced it had seen before.
Operation Detachment is the title of the military mission my grandfather had to document. But it is about many forms of detachment. It is also about the detachment of narrative for soldiers who come home after combat. And about the detachment of my generation to our history, in a very definite form, a soon all the war survivors will have left us and we may only learn this history from the simplified iconic images in our history books.
It is my goal to reconstruct this archive and find out what it tells us today, to get a deeper understanding of the war through this unique documentation. I will travel to the National Archives of Maryland, to see the work of my grandfather that did pass the censorship requirements of that time. And I will travel to a Fifth Marine Division reunion, to have surviving veterans and their family members tell me their story and have them comment on the archive. Can I find people that are shown in the war pictures, from both American and Japanese sides, and hear their stories and take their portrait? My aim is to give the people a voice that perhaps did not have one before.
I have already traveled to Okinawa, where the battle commenced after Iwo Jima, that to this day is still a vital American military base ever since that war. Here, I took portraits and documented the harrowing stories of civilian war survivors and their family members, and the infamous suicide cliffs where civilians were forced to jump off.
War is the best thing that happened to man, my grandfather told me, but I also want to know, what was it like for women? As many of the pictures show the soldiers visiting brothels, something historians say they have also never seen before. In the right context and with respect to the people photographed, I want to show this aspect of the archive too. Because it shows what life was like during wartime for many people, and how many women resorted to prostitution in order to survive.
Also, the archive consists of a vast correspondence between my grandparents during the war. The dialogue reveals in an intimate way what this separation meant for two people, hoping to build a future. If the man can come back to war a hero from the 'Greatest Generation', what does the archive show us about the woman who had to endure the separation and the risk of combat for their loved one?
This grant will be used to partially fund further research in the National Archives and the travels to visit the veterans and their family members. As an artist, I aim to reconstruct, interpret and contextualize this archive through research, interview, text, my own photographic interpretation and film installations, which you can see on my website www.marianneingleby.com.
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