Review by Gerhard Clausing •
How do you effectively illustrate the follies of WAR?
No matter how many times some of us advocate brain over brawn, war seems to be an ever-present specter, and this past week was certainly a glaring example. Perhaps such aggressive behavior is a remnant of the ancient male warrior who was expected to display macho posturing and to act out in violent ways that certainly seem primitive and outdated in our supposedly advanced present. Who can wave the biggest stick, or send the most powerful bombs or missiles? The 20th century certainly was full of war, and the 21st century continues this deplorable trend. When will they ever learn – to negotiate and bring about PEACE? Dole out rewards instead of punishments?!
Aguirrezabala’s War Edition is an effective visual account of wars of the 20th century, with special emphasis on Europe, and a contemporary verve in its presentation. He makes use of a variety of techniques to illustrate his points. Starting with the cover: it shows a snake forming what might be a noose that could be a reminder that violence leaves you in strangulation modes from which retreats are difficult and in which the pressure increases progressively.
Inside the book we encounter many surprises. Album-like photographs attached with actual photo corners and also serving as wall decorations remind us of family members, friends, and neighbors we or others may have lost as casualties in wars; many of these battles in retrospect were useless or could have been shortened or avoided altogether, were it not for the bravado and ego-wagging of some of the decision makers. Replicated money reminds us of economic factors. These are only two of many such realia contained in this photobook.
Robert Aguirrezabala’s special strength is the creation of effective visual narratives. We see reconstructed situations showing moments that allow us to relive war events of the 20th century. We see moments of persuasion through propaganda, stirring up seemingly support-worthy mega-patriotism via exaggerated or repurposed retelling of rumors or false narratives concerning identified pseudo-opponents. We see old slogans and objects and processes symbolic of both warfare and resistance to war.
Much research has gone into the creation of this book. An example is the reproduction of the complete instruction pamphlet for the ‘Volksgasmaske’ (people’s gas mask), which gives an immediate sense of the level of fear that can be instituted in a population. No population is spared; water bottles carried by US soldiers conclude this impressive visual account of 20th century wars. Many items left over from battlefields are also depicted and historical images are interspersed. Further reminders of the almighty economic motivation are included. An extensive booklet insert explains the objects and symbols in Spanish, Euskara (Basque), and English.
Check it out for yourself – highly recommended! Wish war hawks from all countries would study this photobook too – their techniques are illuminatingly transparent!
Roberto Aguirrezabala – War Edition
Photographer: Roberto Aguirrezabala (born in Sestao and resides in Bilbao, Basque Country, Northern Spain)
Self-published with the assistance of the Department of Culture and Linguistic Policy of the Basque Government; © 2019
Texts: Roberto Aguirrezabala
Languages: Spanish, Euskara (Basque), English
Hardback with sewn binding; 168 pages with 130 photographs, unpaginated, with a variety of inserts, add-ons, and fold-outs; 19.5 x 25.5 cm (7 ¾ x 10 inches); printed in Spain by Laboratorio para el arte de Estudios Durero
Photobook Designer: Roberto Aguirrezabala