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 had never seen before. I only knew Iwo Jima from the famous Raising of the Flag image. A heroic image like no other, but after looking at the content of the tattered Kodak box, I began to understand. The image I had of the Second World War was the censored one. What was in the box was the army rejects that did not fit the propaganda of the time. The leftovers and the personal keepsakes.
Since then, I attempt and fail, and try again, to understand the full meaning of this archive and stitch its story back together. How can memories of war be passed down to generations. Can they even, really?
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 from the narrative for soldiers who come home after combat. And about the detachment of my generation to our history, in a very definite form, as 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.
How do we remember war when we have not experienced it? How does our images of war differ from its reality? I wanted to research and reconstruct what this archive is showing us that deepens our understanding of what this war was like. For this, I travelled to Marines who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima to interview them and take their portrait. I did research in the National Archives to find out what was in the archive on my grandfather's work and see how this compares to what I inherited.
For example, there are many explicit images of soldiers visiting Japanese brothels during the occupation of Japan. Are these Comfort Women, or is it a regular brothel? Or are the woman working there due to economic force? I have attempted at giving the men on this story a voice, and now I must attempt to give the woman pictured a voice, too.
In order to research this, I need to travel to Japan to uncover more of the story of these prostitutes in wartime. In the right context and with respect to the people photographed, I want to show this aspect of the archive. Because it shows what life was like during wartime and how some women resorted to prostitution in order to survive. Something we have not seen many images of before.
For my project, I have collaborated in a multi-media presentation that includes the broadcasts of two radio documentaries on Dutch public radio and the future making of a web documentary, a book and exhibitions.
This grant will be used to partially fund further research in Japan after the work I have done in the US National Archives and visited the Americans veterans. I would like to travel to Japan to interview and photograph one of the few surviving Japanese Iwo Jima veterans. Also, I need to travel there to do more research on the role of prostitutes during the American occupation of Japan.
As an artist, I aim to reconstruct, interpret and contextualize this archive through research, interview, text, my own photographic interpretation and film installations and it is still an ongoing process.