Theater of War is a series of works based on an archive of photographs made of men playing games with air guns that are based on news reports and veteran's experiences in contemporary conflicts. The book was published in the fall of 2014 by Intellect Press and a performance of one of the photographs took place in the Hunter Times Square Gallery in 2009.
Theater of War is a book edited by Meredith Davenport with an introduction by Fred Ritchen. The book contains interviews and essays by Jessica Catherine Lieberman and Esther MacCallum-Stewart. It is part of the Critical Photography Series edited by Alfredo Cramerotti and published by Intellect Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.
The photographs in Theatre of War document men who create games based on contemporary wars. The games are played with realistic looking pellet guns and are inspired by narratives and photographs drawn from the news media. Many of the players are interpreting far away wars into the three dimensional space of play, but some are also recent veterans of the US military. In the photographs players pretend to hunt for Osama bin Laden in the barren winter hills of Northern Virginia, play out the death of Fidel Castro in the tropical forests of southern Florida and fight behind retired military commanders to defeat unnamed Arabic speaking tribes in the desert outside of Los Angeles. The layers of reality and how violence is digested through the news media and re-interpreted in online games is important in the work. The locations of the game often begin to assume the qualities of their "real world" counterparts. The photographs hint at the original narratives that inspired them. In one of the photographs a young boy stands handcuffed in a dark basement that is actually an abandoned wine cellar in Fresno California. The environment makes reference to the gruesome images of torture in the Abu Ghraib Prison. Those iconic images have taken on another life in the sub-conscious of play.
Many of the photographs reference other iconic images in the history of photojournalism. An image of a man under a tree with a red washcloth over his face is similar to photographs made during the civil war. These early photojournalists manipulated the aftermath of battle scenes, moving dead bodies to create a better composition
Thinking about Jean Baudrillard’s idea of simulation, I created another version of this work, a performance of the photograph of the young boy in the wine cellar. I wanted to explore what would happen to the power of the Abu Ghraib image referenced in the photograph by adding another generation of simulation. I created a re-enactment of the photograph. In the performance a young man stands handcuffed and hauntingly still, but alive, in the gallery space. The viewer is confronted with the emotional weight of a breathing soldier in handcuffs and with the question which version of this simulation is more closely related to the truth?