7 March - 5 August 2007
Humanitarian action would decidedly not be the same without photography and its power to spark instant emotion, its snapshot of a reality that words cannot render.
Whether by historical happenstance or modern-day necessity, the Red Cross was founded at the same time as the first successful attempts were made at photography. The ICRC is therefore uniquely privileged in that it possesses an uninterrupted visual record, made up of about 110,000 pictures, of the movement’s inception in the wake of a battle, in 1859, to the diverse missions it performs today.
The collection contains such a wealth of documents that strict categories had to be established to select the 88 images for the exhibition. The visit takes the viewer on a chronological journey through the main fields of humanitarian action: relief for the wounded, protection of prisoners of war, restoration of family ties, and assistance for civilians.
From Solferino to Guantanamo, the exhibition queries the longstanding tension between truth and its representation, between player and onlooker, between the contingencies of war and the enduring nature of humanitarian aid, between reality in the “field” and the need to abide by the principles.
Each photo tells a different story, played out at a different time in a different place. From one image to the other, we see the same look of resigned despair, or of irrepressible hope, or of both simultaneously, depending on when misfortune and its witness met. Soberly placed in time and space, these images speak to us of war, suffering and ruin. But also of comfort and kindness.