Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Shutter To Think

By Susan Ellis

AUGUST 25, 1997:  You can consider "Eyewitness 1997" a world tour in a time machine. It will take you back through 1996, from moments of glory to the bloodiest battlefields and all the way back to the womb.

"Eyewitness 1997," showing at the National Civil Rights Museum August 26th through September 18th, is the fruit of an international photojournalism contest put on by the nonprofit organization World Press Photo. World Press Photo was founded in 1955 in the Netherlands to support and promote photojournalism. For the "Eyewitness 1997" contest, an international panel of photographers, editors, and photo agency directors waded through some 35,650 images taken in 1996 submitted by newspapers, magazines, photographers, and press agencies from 119 countries. They then narrowed the field down to 200 in nine categories -- spot news, people, portraits, sports, daily life, nature and the environment, the arts, science, and technology, and general news.

The Photograph of the Year was taken by Italian photographer Francesco Zizola. One in a series of images he took in an Angola trauma center for children hurt by land mines, Zizola's black-and-white shows a little girl hugging a ragged doll, on her right is a smaller girl clutching her neck and to her left is a boy balancing on his one remaining leg. Zizola says that his photos of children bring out a sense of responsibility from the viewer. "The children cry out to us to guarantee their future; they demand that we leave this world to them in good order."

While Zizola's photo captures the bit of child still left in this shell-shocked girl, other "Eyewitness 1997" photographs are simply and blatantly brutal. Three color photographs taken by Corinne Dufka follow the progression of a young West African man being stabbed to death. Karim Daher's black-and-white image shows the terror of Lebonese man being dragged out from under his collapsed house after it was bombed by Israeli soldiers. A public hanging is included in a series of black-and-white photographs taken in Afghanistan by James Nachtwey.

Civil Rights Museum curator Barbara Andrews says that one of the things she noticed when they first held the exhibit (plus a retrospective) last year was just how provocative it was. "It's the kind of show that elicits dialogue," she says. "There will be images there that maybe you had forgotten about. Or there are images that we may not have seen because of what is filtered -- filtered for our newspaper, filtered for television." Andrews says she remembers that the photos from the Vietnam War were particularly stirring: "It's really interesting that people talk about, `I never knew that happened' or `We knew Vietnam happened, but when we were through with that exhibit, we knew we had seen what was just a tip of a very large iceberg.'"

While museum officials are aware that some of the photos in the exhibit can be very disturbing, Andrews says they do not have an official policy on how to handle the material. What they do, she says is sort of prepare the viewer by placing the most wrenching pieces in the middle of the exhibit or toward the end rather than initially shocking him first thing. It's an approach that's worked before. Andrews says that last year's exhibit received only one complaint. It seems that the museum had rented one of its rooms for a dinner and someone objected to dining under a picture of corpse floating on a river. Andrews says they solved the issue by swapping it with something else.

This type of grave photo make up only a fraction of "Eyewitness 1997." There are photos of wildlife caught in action and others of people whipped into a religious fervor. Lennart Nilsson provides his colored shots of embryonic monkeys, chickens, and humans. The members of a modern dance troupe bend for Dirk Buwalda's camera, and Olympic champion Gail Devers takes a leap in front of Stan Benal. Says Andrews, "[The exhibit] makes us realize that around the world, there's a lot of turmoil, a lot of misery and despair amid all the good things happening too."

"Eyewitness 1997" will be making only four U.S. stops on it 29-country tour, and World Press Photo member Ben ten Berge will be in Memphis for the opening on Tuesday, August 26th to discuss the the exhibit and the organization. In addition, the World Press Photo Yearbook 1997, which contains all of the photos in the exhibit, plus some contest runners-up, will be on sale.

"Eyewitness 1997"
August 26th-September 18th
National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry, 521-8699


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