“Despite Similarities to Reality, This is a Work of Fiction”
Urban Edge Gallery, 220 W. Clayton Street, Waukegan
9/11 through Veteran’s Day, Monday – Saturday, 11AM – 8PM, FREE
Ryan Spencer Reed (b. 1979) is an American photographer whose journey documenting critical social issues began in 2002, in east Africa. He worked in that region documenting the Sudanese Diaspora, entering South Sudan and Darfur over numerous years from regions where refugees sought shelter in both Eastern Chad and Kenya. In late summer 2004, he returned home to find an audience for this work in universities, museums, and galleries throughout North America in the form of traveling photographic exhibitions and lectures. They became the cultural backdrop for symposiums designed to grapple with the issues facing the Sudanese people. The Open Society Institute and Soros Foundation awarded him with the Documentary Photography Project’s Distribution Grant in 2006, to help this work reach additional audiences. While exhibiting and speaking internationally on the subject of Sudan, Reed has photographed extensively on the hubris of power amidst the twilight of the American industrial revolution, which is touring in exhibition form.
Since Spring of 2012, Reed took on a long-term project on the modern incarnation of the Band of Brothers: 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne through training and a deployment to Afghanistan. This body of work focuses on these soldiers’ experiences through modern surveillance and tactics as they have shaped policy and changed the way the world’s superpower went to war.
The immersive photographic and audio installation was unveiled in its entirety at ArtPrize 2014 in the Grand Rapids Art Museum and was selected by the public as one of the top finalists out of 1,536 entries. More than 220,000 people stood in line to see Reed’s exhibit during a three-week period. This same body of work was recognized by Pictures of the Year International for World Understanding. In addition, Reed was recently voted the winner of the Leica Oskar Barnack Public Award 2015 by a wide margin. He was one of 50 photographers from around the globe in the running out of 1,689 entries and one of only two from the United States.
“My aim here is to bridge the gap of understanding between those who have been through war and those who haven’t. It is about raising the level of debate that our veterans need all the help we can offer them when they return home to identify avenues to a life of fulfilling purpose after combat.”
The installation gestures toward a military environment, often devoid of color, as the backdrop for displaying four different chapters of images which cover training, deployment to Afghanistan and the soldiers’ return home along with those who give context to the landscape and the theatre of war and its people.
Preparation for War, images are presented on walls assuming the shape of bulletproof barriers or gunnery positions allowing for the foreshadowing of all that follows the experience of training. Dissonance, perimeter imagery encapsulates a viewer widening the gap between the myths and realities of war through the solider’s experience at war. Soldier’s Eye View, pictures are presented on walls now reminiscent of the MRAP vehicles – the windows of voyerism and relative safe passage through a land feared by fallen empires. Drone’s Eye View, light boxes emerge evoking the scenes from aerial reconnaissance viewed on a monitor, positioned to give the vantage point of a peaceful and abstract war-zone from ten-thousand feet.
The project spans two and a half years of documentation of one Army battalion – the Band of Brothers. In the aggregate, 61 images convey, myth, reality, and glimpse into the scope the idea of enduring freedom. The layout represents a maze inviting the viewer to lose sight of the exits in order to fully commit to the consideration of a reality not their own – lured into a choke point – where getting out becomes difficult and the time spent within uncomfortable. Sounds of war, captured audio by the artist, bombard at a low-grade whisper where specific signals are nearly indistinguishable amidst the fog of war. The experience of the installation, echoes the fiction through which most Americans consume war: clean, safe, and sterile. The work aims to catalyze a dialogue on the dissonance between the myths and realities of war.
Watch Ryan Spencer Reed’s interview about Waukegan ArtWise on Comcast Newsmakers
Watch Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor’s interview with Ryan Spencer Reed