Saturday, March 6, 2010

War Roads

Our route across the water-filled pot-holes and hard-packed snow debris of North Minneapolis’s riverside industrial corridor to War Roads, the new exhibit at the Minnesota Photo Center by Star-Tribune staff photographer Richard Sennott, was strangely fitting—though in reverse. Sennott has visited the Middle East several times for the Strib, and his recent assignment took him out across flat, roadless desert expanses in 100-vehicle caravans through swirling dirt and dust so thick it was often hard to breath, let alone focus a camera. Sennott did manage to get some stunning photos of the procession, and he also produced several ingenious compositions from the inside of moving vehicles. In one photo the dusty road ahead is mirrored in a soldier’s sunglasses. Another compelling shot captures the crystal atmosphere of the hot desert night, with a soldier sleeping alongside his vehicle under a blazing canopy of stars.

The show at the photo center includes photos from all of Sennott’s trips to the Middle East, however, and they run the gamut from almost brutally clinical shots of the victims of Saddam Hussein’s tear gas campaigns in Kurdistan to lovely group compositions of a roadside wedding.

Wandering the halls of the spacious gallery creates an effect that’s rather different from seeing a political documentary or watching an on-line slideshow. As the focus shifts from centuries-old patterns of dress and commerce to almost random roadside violence and the uniformed rigor of modern military protocol, the soul of region itself—its trials and its enduring dignity—begins to take hold of us. And individual faces step out from the circumstances of isolated incidents described in a newspaper article to expose hints of lives lived, the details of which we can only guess at. The distant mountains, moments of casual horseplay, grief-stricken peasants, soldiers using laptops in their makeshift bunks, children heading off to school—it’s a great and varied show, and Sennott’s affection for both the people and the landscapes rings out from every part of it.

The Star-Tribune deserves a round of applause for sending Sennott to Iraq and Afganistan, and kudos also go to the Minnesota Photo Center for hosting the show.

You can watch a slide-show (and get information about the exhibit itself) by clicking here.

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