“The Dreadful Details,” a study of representations of war through image, was commissioned by the French national center for visual arts [Centre National des Art Plastiques] for Visa pour l’Image. The title of this large-scale diptych is drawn from the introduction to Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan’s book on the American Civil War. As pioneers of war reporting, they were the first to show the ‘dreadful details’ of war, revealing the flipside of the heroic image of combat by photographing grisly landscapes in Gettysburg strewn with dead bodies. In this book that was part documentary, part an anti-war pamphlet, Gardner and O’Sullivan carried on the tradition of artists like Jacques Callot and Goya, while opening the path for generations of photographers who would make it their duty to expose the horrors of war.
“The Dreadful Details” proposes an art-history of pictorial descriptions of war. The diptych represents a scene of carnage in Iraq moments after a suicide bombing, as a squad of tense American Marines arrives at the scene. The panorama conveys both a sense of anguish and serenity in a fraction of calm between two moments of violence. The artist’s approach here is to explore the nature of “history pictures” in the modern era. Eric Baudelaire does not use the event itself as the source material for the photograph; in fact he did not go to the sites where this history occurred – Kerbala, Iraq. Instead, his material was the realm of stories, the industry of make-believe: Hollywood. “The Dreadful Details” was staged on a film set outside of Los Angeles. The characters in the image are retired Marines and professional actors, recruited via the “Middle East in Hollywood” talent agency, recast in roles similar to those they frequently play in television series set in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
Commission from the French Ministry for Culture & Communication (National Center for Visual Arts).