War Primer 2 is a limited edition book that physically inhabits the pages of Bertolt Brecht’s remarkable 1955 publication, War Primer.
The original is a collection of Brecht’s newspaper clippings, each accompanied by a four-line poem that he referred to as a Photo-epigram. It was the culmination of almost three decades of intermittent activity.
Artist(s) Adam Broomberg & Olivier Chanarin
Publisher Chopped Liver / Mack
The title deliberately recalls the textbooks used to teach elementary school children how to read; Brecht’s book is a practical manual, demonstrating how to ‘read’ or ‘translate’ press photographs. Brecht was profoundly uneasy about the affirmative role played by the media within the political economy of capitalism and referred to press photographs as hieroglyphics in need of decoding.
War Primer 2 is the belated sequel. While Brecht’s War Primer was concerned with images of the Second World War, War Primer 2 is concerned with the images of conflict generated by both sides of the so-called ‘War on Terror’.
‘Don’t start with the good old things, but the bad new ones,’ Brecht famously said, and in this spirit Broomberg and Chanarin have gathered their material from the internet – compressed, uploaded, ripped, squeezed, reformatted, re-edited and often anonymous images – rather than sifting through newspapers with a pair of scissors.
Heiner Müller once said that to use Brecht without changing him is an act of betrayal. With War Primer 2, Broomberg and Chanarin have appropriated Brecht’s original, giving us their critique of images of contemporary conflict, which is simultaneously a betrayal and an homage.