When we think of “war art” today, many of us think of photographs.
Cracked yellowed photos of Canada’s First World War aviators standing with pride beside the machines of wood and wire and cloth that would carry them into battle on high. Their jaunty white scarves and neat jodhpurs tucked into polished boots belie the mud and blood and soot to come. And, also from this era, the enormous paintings of heroes and generals and battles that cover walls in high-ceilinged museums and galleries.
Black-and-white and coloured photographs from the Second World War and later, of Canadian aircraft lined up on runways in England and southern France, South Korea and Italy. Agile fighters and lumbering bombers, repaired and readied by round-the-clock groundcrew so that the waving pilots and aircrew can carry the fight across the Channel, through North Africa, to the enemy in the North, over the Balkans.
Digital images, this time yellowed not by age but by blowing sand and dirt in Afghanistan, of coalition airfields where Canadians come under attack from above and from “outside the wire”, where befouled engines challenge groundcrew and aircrew alike. Where lowered ramps of cargo decks offer shelter and transport to the flag-draped coffins of Canadian warriors.
These are the pictures in our heads. Each one captures a single moment in time, as clearly as if we’d been there. Every detail in each photo ties it—and us—to that moment.
War art may be less clear, may not…