Heartrending ‘Eye on Iraq’ at de Young Museum

Courtesy PhotoKael Alford’s “Najaf

War is hard, but it is especially hard on children. If you view the photographs of Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson, now at the de Young Museum, be prepared.

“Eye Level in Iraq: Photographs by Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson,” which runs through June 16, looks at the impact of the U.S.-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 through the lens of everyday life.

The 62 digital inkjet prints, on loan from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, were taken during a two-year period.

Among the most moving works are those of children: In one, a child, barefoot and motionless, lies on a metal examination table, fatally wounded when a missile hit his home. Nearby is the doctor, looking away.

Discussing her photographs 10 years after they were taken, Alford says she hopes the images can “open a window on the grace of Iraq.”

“I consider these photographs invitations to the viewer to learn more, to explore the relationships between public policy objectives and their real-world execution, and to consider the legacies of human grief, anger, mistrust and dismay that surely follow violent conflict,” she says.

In an effort to capture everyday life, the photographers worked outside the restrictions of the U.S. military’s embedded journalist program. What is so powerful about their work is that it captures Iraqis doing what they must do to survive.

In one photograph, Iraqis are shown sifting through the remains of bodies exhumed from a mass grave. Other photos include one of a man and his sons guarding their wealthy Baghdad neighborhood against looters. The father sits on a fancy chair placed on the sidewalk.

Like Alford, Anderson’s reflections are part of the wall text in the exhibit. Their words create a helpful road map to understand how Iraq must have looked then — and now.

“These photographs were produced under the most unforgiving of deadlines, measured one to the next in fractions of a second,” Anderson says. “They were intended as documents, encrypted in codes of their own spontaneous logic, that I hoped would someday provide clues for myself and others to see past the rhetoric of this war.”


Eye Level in Iraq: Photographs by Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson

  • Where: de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F.
  • When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes June 16
  • Tickets: $6 to $10; free first Tuesday of the month.
  • Contact: (415) 750-3600. www.deyoungmuseum.org

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