150 years of war photography at the Ryerson Image Centre

Video by Tristan Simpson and Zachary Dodds

The Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) unveiled three new exhibitions to commemorate the centennial of the First World War on Tuesday.

DISPATCH: War Photographs in Print, 1854-2008

The major exhibit, DISPATCH: War Photographs in Print, 1854-2008, marks the role of recording and representation technologies used during wartime. It traces war photography’s evolution over the past one-and-a-half centuries and highlights editorial practices used by news organizations. The exhibit compares original prints to their reproductions to highlight the editorial process of war press photography.

“Photographers are making choices when they are shooting, but then so do their editors,” said the curator, Thierry Gervais, who is also an assistant professor at Ryerson. “It’s not just about war, it’s about how the war was represented.”

Thierry Gervais, curator. (Zachary Dodds/Ryersonian)

Thierry Gervais, curator. (Zachary Dodds/Ryersonian)

DISPATCH: War Photographs in Print, 1854-2008. (Zachary Dodds/Ryersonian)

DISPATCH: War Photographs in Print, 1854-2008. (Zachary Dodds/Ryersonian)


The project, which started over two years ago, uses photographs from books, magazines and newspapers to illustrate a historical timeline of war press photography. Gervais describes the exhibit as a panoramic view of war photography from the 19th century to the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.

“We dedicate our exhibitions to the power and uses of photography and video,” said Paul Roth, director of the RIC.

“The myriad of ways artists, journalists and scholars use images to record, to reveal and to address topics of great importance in our lives and the exhibitions that we open today exemplify that mission.”

Drone Wedding

Picking up where Gervais’s exhibit leaves off in the 21st century is a contemporary exhibit called Drone Wedding. Created by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky, co-founders of Toronto-based art collective Public Studio, the politically charged exhibit aims to use drone technology to provoke conversations about surveillance and warfare.

Drone technology has existed for a long time, but developments in the last decade have led to increased surveillance capabilities; drones now have the capability to carry out strikes that fire long range missiles to targets on the ground.

Tamira Sawatzky and Elle Flanders stand infront of their exhibit, Drone Wedding at the Ryerson Image Centre

Flanders said the research led them to discover that drone strikes have taken place at weddings in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The exhibit consists of video footage of a staged wedding. Sawatzky explained that they used a real drone, an iPhone surveillance camera and cameras hidden in bushes to create a sense of spying on someone’s private life.

“A wedding is something that happens here and is universal — we thought that would create some kind of connection for people,” said Flanders.

“Here specifically, we’re thinking of drones as weapons and how drones are used to strike and target individuals. Our idea in this piece was to turn the idea back home.”

Harun Farocki: Serious Games I-IV

The third RIC exhibit, Harun Farocki: Serious Games I-IV, aims to reveal the links between technology and violence in wartime. It shows the use of virtual reality and gaming technology in a number of factions of the U.S. military. Displayed on widescreen TVs, the exhibit shows soldiers training in virtual battlefields. The split screen technique displays both the individual in training and the virtual space they’re learning in.

Harun Farocki: Serious Games I-IV. (Zachary Dodds/Ryersonian)

Harun Farocki: Serious Games I-IV. (Zachary Dodds/Ryersonian)

According to the RIC, artist responsible for the exhibit, Harun Farocki, died in July. He has made more than 100 film and video productions for cinema and television.

The exhibition started Wednesday and is expected to last until December. More information is available online.

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