To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the decisive military and police action code-named Operation Storm, as well as Victory and National Thanksgiving Day and Croatian Veterans Day on 5 August, this summer the Croatian History Museum has organized an exhibition of Croatian war photography under the title “The Faces of War.” The photographs encompass the period from 1991 to 1995, presenting events from Croatia’s Homeland War. This exhibition, held with the support of the Croatian Ministry of Culture and the City of Zagreb, is a continuation of the Museum’s many years of efforts to cover the Homeland War. The exhibition presents approximately 200 photographs in classical enlargements and the same number in multimedia formats from the Museum’s own Collection of Photographs, Films and Negatives, and from similar institutions and private collections of wartime photographs.
Why an exhibition of Croatian war photography?
During work on “The Homeland War” exhibition held in the Croatian History Museum in 2011-2012, the curators accorded particular attention to the high number of photographs that came out of the Homeland War. Given the complexity of this historical theme, photography was only one of the diverse museum fields used to present that period of contemporary Croatian history. The wartime photographs, however, aroused the greatest interest of visitors, and this served as the impetus for the organization of this year’s exhibition of Croatian war photography.
The unfortunate fact is that Croatia does not yet have an umbrella institution or museum that gathers and cares for the photographic heritage – including photographs from the Homeland War, so the already painstaking work on this theme was all the more arduous from the very start. This is why most of the photographs in this exhibition were collected and borrowed directly from professional wartime photographers and their families. Many photographers expressed the desire, and hope, that their works, both those already published and those many forgotten photographs and negatives, would one day become – as they deserve – a part of Croatia’s history and cultural heritage. During the Homeland War, Croatian photographers shot hundreds of thousands of photographs. History and art will remember the particularly well-done exemplars, and some of them can certainly be seen in this exhibition.
The photographs on display are exclusively the works of Croatian photographers who were personally involved in the wartime events of their own people. Besides photographs taken by professionals, numerous amateurs also shot photographs during the war, although these are not presented in the exhibition. Photographs from the occupied parts of Croatia, as well as photographs of certain key events during the Homeland War (such as the tragic fall of Vukovar) are similarly not on display in this exhibition because they could only have been taken by foreign and Serbian war photographers. The reliability and objectivity of published photographs, particularly those released during the war, can always questioned given their manipulative and media/propagandistic role.
Croatia was caught unprepared for the war. While some photographers recorded the everyday experience of civilian life, others risked their lives, becoming soldiers and war correspondents. Unfortunately, there were those who, like Pavo Urban, died with their cameras in their hands, although they still managed to create a unique and extraordinary body of photographs in a rather brief period.
The authentic testimony provided by so many of these photographs and their significance to Croatia’s past and future should one day receive the proper appreciation they deserve. So this year’s exhibition of war photography, “The Faces of War”, reflects our intention of highlighting the great value of photographs as a historical source, thereby laying the foundations for future research, exhibitions and projects.
The exhibition is called “The Faces of War” because out of the thousands of examined photographs, the faces of children, women, the elderly and soldiers are those which best testify to the fates of anonymous, “ordinary” people beset by the horrors of war.
Since this is not an exclusively historical exhibition, it has no chronological sequence. It is rather divided into several thematic units: Beginnings, Defender, Civilian, Storm, and Faces of War. For in the case of war photography, after inspecting the totality of the gathered materials, it is a rather thankless task to select the manner in which the photographs will be exhibited and presented to the public.
The exhibition is dedicated to Croatia’s war veterans, its defenders, and to all casualties of war, to the photographers, and Croatian society as a whole, traumatized by war and still enduring its catharsis in everyday life.
Author of exhibition:
July 9th 2015 - September 20th 2015