The Day Nobody Died – Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

In an apt with Anthony looking at my first draft of the research paper he advised me to consider looking at artistic work within photojournalism or artistic work that can be associated with photojournalism. Photography is a vast medium with various genres and subsets such as photojournalism, documentary, commercial and art and although they can reference each other, it is important that the audience perceives each individual body of work in the most effective environment.

To investigate this idea further I researched artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin who produced a body of work named ‘The Day Nobody Died’ which was a conceptual comment on the practice of photojournalism and the experience of war. Broomberg and Chanarin put themselves in the place of a photojournalism, being linked with a troop operating in Afghanistan but they produced work that is meant to be perceived and read as art. Their aim was to reflect the banality posed by the moments of waiting between period of action in war. They achieved this by taking large roles of photographic paper and exposing them to the sun on a day in which there was no active conflict taking place, these sheets of photo-paper were then developed and exhibited in gallery spaces, most recently at the Shanghai Biennale.





This work, although associated with photojournalism, is not actually and shouldn’t be considered to belong to the genre of photojournalism. It is an artistic body of work and belongs in an environment where is can be perceived as art; as Barthes discussed there are two responses to an image: studium which is a critical, appreciate response and punctum which is an provoked, emotional response. This work requires the studium approach where the viewer can appreciate the techniques and thought process behind the imagery; this is the appropriate viewing experience for a piece of art. Photojournalism however desires to achieve the punctum process, an emotive response from the image which compells the audience to take action in relation to the content. As Fred Ritchin professed, the purpose of photography is to be useful, in this aspect photojournalism must strive to be useful and provoke social change. In contrast, art is about exploring new methods in which to describe the world with different techniques and perceptions. It has definitely been beneficial to research Broomberg and Chanarin and I will be including this avenue of research in my paper and the independent blog posts I plan to complete.


The State of Photography Symposium

As further research, I visited The State of Photography at the Birmingham library at which Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin would be speaking. Although they wouldn’t necessarily be speaking about their work The Day Nobody Died, it means I can grasp their motives behind their work. My notes and evaluation can be seen below:

  • Kriegsfibel – collection of WWII newspaper clippings by Brecht, photographs in newspapers were confusing, the image needed to be decoded, (1955 when photos in news were relatively new)
  • Has photography always been in crisis since it was made?
  • Brecht’s issue with photograph seems to be one we still address today
  • Brecht combined the images with poetry, to teach/direct how to consider and interpret the image (was also interested in aerial photography which was invested in WWI)
  • Access to media has changed today in photography
  • Imperial war museum allowed one archivist access to different perspectives, from the bomb being made to the reform of Liverpool after the war
  • “To win the war you have to win the war of images”
  • The photo opportunity- things are created for the camera and nothing else, relationship between the event being made and the camera documenting it is intrinsic
  • What would be the contemporary images associated with the wars today in Iraq/Iran
  • B and C took the original book War Primer and ‘vandalised’ it by screen printing in new images that are associated with conflict events today (the sources for the images are listed in the back)
  • Image ownership and the life and economy of the photograph, it is a piece of currency and has value, makes it uncomfortable when it is of someone’s suffering
  • Now did AP get to license the images of the Abu Gharib prison? They have more people watching social media than they have journalists on the ground and they bought the images from the relevant social media pages which enabled them to license
  • Bigger narrative of the book is that photography has changed
  • Biometric camera, used by the military to record the individuals they have killed
  • We now have another genre, the photograph of the photographers taking a photograph
  • Photograph of the Obama ministration when they saw the footage of Osama Bin Laden being killed, they were clever on choosing their imagery, they didn’t do what Bush wanted to do in creating an iconic image to throw back against the image of 911 ingrained in society – there is an image of a Navy Seal lying next to Bin Laden’s body to measure the height however it has not been released (B a d C are effectively holding out until this image is inevitably released)
  • The original book was meant to be an opera so B and C have created a video with conflict footage with the music from some of the opera
  • War primer led to the opera project and in Germany they were shown Brecht’s bible, he had used his bible as a notebook when he had run out of paper, B and C wanted to make a contemporary repose to the bible – working with quite radical philosopher who studied the old testament
  • The bible book became a symbol for this unsigned agreement we have with the state without ever being aware of making it
  • They paired imagery with relevant text which reflected on this violent and punishing nature
  • Phrase that appears again and again in the bible is ‘and it comes to past’ ‘so it came to past’ – this kind of links to the structure of soaps these days, these phrases came to represent acts of miracles or good luck which they juxtaposed with pictures of magic tricks. In addition to this there are images of Nazi soldiers being tender toward each other
  • New book project with Grain – for medical reasons many people aren’t allowed in the archive because of the reduced oxygen content in the air, B and C worked with this limitation to build on it, using the memory of the archivist rather than the images as they have the major relationship and connection with these photographs
  • Images in memory is a very interesting concept because for some unknown reason,
  • The mind creates these connections with content that you don’t really know how or why it is connected


Attending this symposium was really beneficial to me as it informed me about Broomberg and Chanarin and their thought process behind their practice. Although reluctant to define and associate themselves with a particular genre of photography, from seeing their imagery and hearing the ideology behind each body of work I formed the impression that they should be considered as artists or art-based image-makers as they use images to form their work whether it be photographs produced by themselves or using appropriated imagery. I had identified when researching their work The Day Nobody Died that they shouldn’t be considered as photojournalists and attending this symposium confirmed this view and as a result it is important that their work shouldn’t be considered as photojournalism. Their motive is to describe the world differently and although they chose events and locations that are heavily associated with photojournalism, the work should only be viewed in an art context. This is a concept I wish to address in my research paper and use Broomberg and Chanarin in association with this. Overall my research on these practitioners has been extremely useful and I have come away with a case study and visual example for my research paper and blog posts.


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