Exhibitions

VR: Wirral Hospitals’ School and MaxLiteracy Award

10 June - 3 September 2021

Exhibitions

Return To Nature

30 July 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

VR: First Light New Northern Graduates Exhibition

22 May - 4 July 2021

Exhibitions

We Are Nature

30 July - 14 August 2021

Exhibitions

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival — Jessica El Mal: Grounds For Concern

16 July - 15 August 2021

Exhibitions

Digital Window Gallery: Who We Are

8 July - 31 July 2021

Exhibitions Main Exhibition

Whose Land Is It?

8 July - 19 September 2021

Exhibitions

VR Student Exhibitions: UCEN

9 June - 13 June 2021

Exhibitions

VR Student Exhibitions: Youth Culture by Whitby High School

23 June - 27 June 2021

Exhibitions

VR Student Exhibitions: Arc with Hugh Baird

16 June - 20 June 2021

Past Events

First Light: Photography Writing Now – Tilt Launch Party

9 July 2021

Past Events

OPEN ROOMS #14: Separated Together

24 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Student Exhibitions: Whitby High School

23 June - 27 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Student Exhibitions: UCEN

9 June - 13 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Student Exhibitions: Arc

16 June - 20 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Digital Window Gallery: HOMETOWNS

10 June 2021

Exhibitions Main Exhibition

Digital Window Gallery: Postcards from us x

10 June - 20 June 2021

LightNight 2021: Play

21 May 2021

Heavy Gardening Art Trail Photowalk

21 May 2021

OPEN ROOMS #13: A BALKAN JOURNEY WITH CHRIS LESLIE

17 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

First Light New Northern Graduates Exhibition

22 May 2021

Past Events

Open Eye Gallery book club presents: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

3 June 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Interior Tension

22 June 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Networked Beings

8 June 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Things Are Strange

25 May 2021

Past Events

OPEN ROOMS #12: INDEPENDENTS BIENNIAL

6 May 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Liverpool Biennial 2021: The Stomach and the Port

19 May - 6 June 2021

Picturing England’s High Streets: Prescot

7 April 2021

Picturing England’s High Street: Chester

7 April 2021

Exhibitions

Reclaim The City: Suzanne St Clare

8 April 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Parallel Histories

11 May 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: After Nature

27 April 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Unearthly Matter

13 April 2021

Exhibitions

Hanging out: Interviews

23 March - 5 April 2021

Exhibitions

Digital Window Gallery: Independents Biennial

18 March - 6 June 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Corrupted Archives

30 March 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight – Connecting new photography with writing

16 March 2021

Past Events

OPEN ROOMS #11: ON THE CORNERS OF ARGYLE AND GLENWOOD – PHOTOBOOK IN COLLABORATION

11 March 2021

Freelance Photographer in Residence Position

23 February 2021

Family Page

23 February 2021

About Alternative Lens

23 February 2021

Projects

Introducing Energy House

23 February 2021

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Open Rooms #10: All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go

25 February 2021

The Course

12 February 2021

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PLATFORM ISSUE 3: HOPE

12 February 2021

Events

OPEN CALL: THE STORY OF LIVERPOOL THROUGH ITS TREES

1 January - 30 April 2021

Past Events

OPEN CALL: HOMETOWNS

11 February - 31 March 2021

Past Events

WHAT WE DO IN LOCKDOWN

5 January 2021

HYPERTEXT: Books Beyond Bars – Felix McNulty in conversation with Sarah Jane Baker

28 November 2020

HYPERTEXT: Ruth White – The Role of the Photobook in Representing the British Working Classes

28 November 2020

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My Mum (in the middle) and her two brothers
Aden, Yemen
Cinema, Yemen
C-Span Screen Capture

Layla Hussain — How does photography shape our understanding of places that are sites of conflict?

Last winter, my grandmother left Yemen to live with my family in Liverpool, UK. On the night she arrived, my sister and I had helped her unpack. This did not take very long seeing as she is a very simple woman. She still prays on the same prayer mat she used 30 years ago. She still insists on reading from a Qur’an that is bound by sellotape. Along with her possessions, was an envelope filled with photographs; all of which had 1964 handwritten on the back. We sat down on her new bed, and she explained who was who in each photograph, most of whom were family. 

When we arrived at a particular photograph (above), my grandmother shared that the gentleman carrying my uncle “from what she could recollect” was part of the British armed forces deployed in Aden, and that he was a regular customer at my grandfather’s kiosk.

In 1839, the British East India Company took control of Aden, a port city in the south of Yemen. Following the opening of the Suez Canal, Britain had used the port to monopolise trading between Europe and the far east. Over the years that followed, families of the deployed arrived in Aden. Subsequently British occupiers established schools, churches, hospitals, pubs, hotels and country clubs all across the city. Aden had remained a British colony until 1967 when Britain had ultimately withdrawn all its forces. 

Another photograph in my grandmother’s collection was of a cinema in the neighbourhood she lived in, Bureqa; or better known by its English name, Little Aden. As my grandmother recalled, the cinema was built by British Petroleum (BP), and was initially for the families of deployed workers and British occupiers. It showed a host of Hollywood movies as well as popular Bollywood and Egyptian movies of that time to appeal. 

Edward Said once declared “the power to narrate or block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism and constitutes as one of the main connections between them”1. Imperialist rhetoric has consistently advocated the occupation of a country under the evangelical guise of “civilising”, which is infamously expressed in notable poet Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden”. The poem expresses white colonialism as a selfless conquest as well as the inferiority in the dispositions of colonised groups2.

Yemen is no exception to this same rhetoric. In the 1960 documentary ‘Aden Protectorate Levies’ by the British Pathe, not only is Aden described as a place “where barbarism flourished”, but the documentary also cites British administration as the main reason for the “cessation of barbarism”3.

When you google search a country, the images you are generally met with are reflective of the culture of that country. Photographs of historical monuments, traditions, and public figures. Once a country becomes a site of conflict, this changes. In 2014, war broke out in Yemen. When you search for Yemen on Google Images today, the results are flooded with conflict saturated photographs, largely published by external media outlets. Army tanks. Destroyed buildings. Heavily armed soldiers. UN negotiation conferences. Families suffering from malnutrition. In these photographs, Yemeni people typically assume one of two identities: the victim or the aggressor. The malnourished child. The soldier. Photographers have garnered worldwide attention for their photographs covering the devastation this war has caused, and their images are often used in humanitarian campaigns to foster empathetic responses. Senator Bernie Sanders, for instance, displayed a photograph by the photographer Giles Clarke during a debate in 2018 about the US’ continued involvement in the war4. The photograph depicted a Yemeni child named Batool who had been suffering from severe acute malnutrition5

(screen capture/C-span)

While these images are powerful, it is important to question the role such imagery has. There has been vast research into the implications of media images used in humanitarian campaigns. Evidence shows photographs of starving children in particular foster empathetic responses (e.g. donating to humanitarian organisations or petition signing). Children are “ultimate emblems of innocent vulnerability and dependence”, and while pictures of starving children are employed as a way for charities to attract support (e.g. donations or petition signing), these same images have been accused of denying those pictured of “dignity and agency. In recent years, leading NGO Save the Children have been criticised for using ‘shock’ images of starving children looking pleadingly into the camera (and therefore at their potential saviours), in a manner that reinforces a paternal logic with traces of colonial iconography. The organisation has since moved away from this imagery, towards images that are underpinned by notions of solidarity rather than dependence6. However, the vast majority of NGOs still continue to use “shock” images of children despite ethical criticisms.

Outside of humanitarian campaigns, photographs of children suffering have always sparked humanitarian responses and international outrage. In her book, “On Photography”, writer and political activist Susan Sontag makes mention of Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, otherwise informally known as “The Napalm Girl”, claiming it “did more to increase public revulsion against the war than a hundred hours of televised barbarities”. 

Despite the initial impacts “shock” images can have, Sontag argues that once a person starts down the road of seeing photographs of atrocities, they become “anaesthetised” declaring that 

“The vast photographic catalogue of misery and injustice throughout the world has given everyone a certain familiarity with atrocity, making the horrible seem more ordinary—making it appear familiar, remote (“it’s only a photograph”), inevitable”7

Over the years, western media publications have under-represented the identity and culture of a number of countries in conflict and overrepresented tragedy; perpetuating the narrative that conflict is a norm/inevitable in these places. People have lost their jobs, their homes, their friends, and their family members in Yemen’s ongoing war and whilst photography has served as an essential medium for the world to see what is happening to the people of Yemen, it is equally important to reject the idea that their long term suffering is their only truth. Why is an entire country reduced to a circumstance? How does the legacy of imperialism impact photography today? How does photography shape our understanding of people living in places that are sites of conflict when the only images we see of an entire people are images filled with suffering and AK47s?

— Layla Hussain, Liverpool

References

  1. Said E. Culture and imperialism. London: Vintage; 1994.

 

  1. Kipling R. The White Man’s Burden. London: The Times; 1899.

 

  1. Aden Protectorate Levies (1960) [Internet]. www.youtube.com. 2014 [cited 22 May 2020]. Available from: https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=Dy4NClDMgeM&t=8s

 

  1. Bernie Sanders stood beside an image of a Yemeni child as the debate on ending US involvement in the Saudi-led war intensifies [Internet]. www.businessinsider.com. 2018 [cited 12 July 2020]. Available from:https://www.businessinsider.com/bernie-sanders-displayed-photo-of-starving-child-during-yemen-war-debate-2018-12?r=US&IR=T

 

  1. Giles C. ‘Batool’. SA’ADA CITY, N. YEMEN. May 2017 [Internet]. www.instagram.com. 2017 [cited 17 May 2020]. Available from: https://www.instagram.com/p/BXftHWnDFPb/

 

  1. Aiello G, Parry K. Visual Communication: Understanding Images in Media Culture. London: SAGE Publications; 2019.

 

  1. Sontag S. On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1977.

 

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