Yan Morvan, Rencontres d’Arles 2016
War is the father and king of all: some he has made gods, and some men; some slaves and some free.
In the 1980s, Yan Morvan was a celebrated photojournalist, documenting the world’s major conflicts; his pictures were on magazines covers; he was among the greats in his profession. But the continual sight of violence and death one day made him doubt the meaning and legitimacy of his career as a war photographer. In 2004, therefore, he decided to change his approach and method. He would continue to photograph his principal subject, war, but no longer would he do so in the murderous tumult of action, in real time; instead it would be long after the battle, in the stillness of the landscape.
Years, centuries, millennia after the clash of arms had died away, he set out on this worldwide quest. Ceaselessly driven on, he set the tripod of his Deardorff 20×25 wherever men had fought, in any weather, any season. This work lasted ten years. He catalogued sites, piled up dates, constructed, item upon item, an extraordinary inventory of war.
He covered every type of battle, photographing them with the same acuteness and sense of observation as a soldier on the ground. So there accumulated a long series of open fi elds, forests, shorelines, rivers and bridges, cities and ramparts. Through it we discover that the art of war, in fact, involves a limited selection of forms in time and space. After war, nature once again becomes the imperturbable mistress of the place, landscape remains as vast as History, peace returns, but questions remain. Does the story of war reflect that of humanity?
In his Battlefields, Yan Morvan does not attempt to answer this question, but leaves it for the reader to consider. However, at the end of this extraordinary effort, he discovered that he had continued his work as a war photographer, capturing war on fi lm through the timeless spirit of place.
Texts: Gaëlle Maïdon and Sarah Bertin.
We would like to thank Vera Michalski.
Publication: Champs de Bataille, Éditions Photosynthèses, 2015. Prints and framing by Atelier Sunghee Lee, Arles.
Exhibition venue: Capitole.