The above photo is of the NATO Saber Strike exercises in Poland that took place from May to June 2017. Taking away the tanks it could appear to be a painting by Claude Monet; however, the tanks are there, though camouflaged with foliage in a field of flowers. The blue flowers and green grass and undergrowth in the foreground are represented in soft hues of beige, green and blue with hints of yellow. The delicate blue flowers and plant life have an artistic splendour to them, beautifying the act of war. The composition is simple but elaborate in its exquisite detail of the flowers in the foreground. In the middleground we can see the two imposing armoured tanks in dark grey with linear and circular contours, embellished with bright greenery, giving them a new dimension in sharp contrast to the ethereal and fragile tapestry of flowers in the field they are trampling. A small cloud of grey smoke coming from the second armoured tank is lost in the background of the light grey sky. The dreamy impressionist-like field of flowers is contrasted by the presence of the tanks, giving them a new dimension. The clear limits between land and sky divide the hierarchies of the composition, horizontally organized by the two armoured tanks and the field. There is a photographic symphony that is unforgettable, described in different shades of light and suggests achievement and domination over nature. Photos like this should be widely considered a masterpiece, though perhaps the tanks as a paragon are not well accepted in the middleground due to the psychological intensity of the moment, but a necessary element in an impressionist war photo. Perhaps this kind of photo is not well received yet by the general public, who may have yet to get used to this style.
The second image is from the series of weeping willow trees Claude Monet painted in homage to the fallen French soldiers in the First World War. In the foreground we can see the soft, grassy base surrounding the weeping willow tree and its trunk. In the middleground we have all the leaves of the willow in their green and yellow shades. At the top of the painting the branches are extended like arms, as though calling or invoking someone.
In the photo of the armoured tanks we know that the tanks are in fact there to build roads, bridges, rail networks and other civilian infrastructure to be ready for war. Shouldn’t we instead be building for positive reasons, to increase communications, to build new houses, schools, museums and bridges to reach these places, as bridges of communication that open dialogue? The useless beauty of the flowers is contrasted with the merciless killing power of the tanks, of NATO behind the tanks. Isn’t a painting (or photo in this case) about a dialogue without words that can communicate an expression, political belief, emotion, perception, or conviction in total silence?
My question here is, if 1.57 trillion dollars were spent globally on weapons in 2016, while this amount is predicted to grow to $1.67 trillion in 2018 (Jane’s Defence Budget’s report) and more on civil infrastructure to prepare for wars, what if this money was spent on the arts? What if this money was spent on beautifying our world and not on destroying it and not on killing? Monet and his family moved to London to escape the Franco-Prussian war. Where shall we all escape to if war breaks out in Europe, Russia, America or Asia? Where are the others in war-torn areas of the world escaping to? Does it make any sense? We don’t want a revival of Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the flowers gone” for Europe, or for that matter for anywhere else in the world.
Many thanks to the photographer, Ints Kalnins, for his very beautiful and poetic photo, a reminder that war takes place even in beautiful fields and cities.
Price range of armoured tanks from $8.58 million
Volume 32 no 6 July/August 2018 pp 26 -27