Two sides of photojournalism: Women in War & The View from Manchester

Amnesty International’s opted to highlight the particular plight of women in conflict , just as the Imperial War Museum North mounts the Jenny Matthews: Women in War Zones exhibition. Meanwhile the Guardian’s Don McPhee’s solo exhibition makes for a very different, but no less engaging show at Manchester Art Gallery.

Women and children tend to make up the largest proportion of civilian casualties in any conflict and sexual violence is common, especially as in many conflicted parts of the world rape brings shame on whole families. So women and children are often abused to get at their menfolk. Consequently, one of the most startling images from Jenny Mathews is a young girl at play in a school yard; look more closely and you can see her eyes have been cut out by rebel soldiers and made a present for her father. But fortunately, that’s as gruesome as it gets and Mathews’ images (even this one) humanise rather alienate their subjects. They capture much more than horror. The laughing blind girl proves life goes on regardless and this is a glimpse of the real lives behind the statistics. Anyway. Even if you can’t make the exhibition, nip over to Amnesty, where you’ll find stuff you can do to make a difference.

Don McPhee’s photojournalism is inevitably domestic and sometimes nostalgic and some of it’s over here. Northern rather than Mancunian, it takes in the miners’ strike, remembers Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and takes a trip to Scarborough. Perhaps McPhee’s showing us that the past is a foreign country, surely not as foreign on those in Mathews’ images, but foreign all the same. There’s as much angst, struggle and happiness here, but in McPhee’s work the horror is replaced with artistic quirkiness and being closer to home he hits just as hard.
Jenny Mathews: Women in War Zones 22 January – 10 April 2005……The View from Manchester: Don McPhee 15 January – 3 April 2005

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