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June 11, 2007

Asking Questions About America: Fleet Week #1

Ninaberman-Fleetweek-Timesq

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About two weeks ago, photographer Nina Berman sent me a series of photos she had shot during Fleet Week, and I've been studying them ever since.

Not familiar with Fleet Week?

Held yearly since 1984, 3,000 Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen disembark in New York City to celebrate the sea services.  In that stretch, there are dozens of military displays and demonstrations, as well as public tours of various naval ships. This year, according to Military.com, there were six ships involved, including multipurpose amphibious assault ship Wasp at Manhattan’s Pier 90, and guided-missile cruisers Hue City and San Jacinto, guided-missile frigate Groves, guided-missile destroyers Churchill and Oscar Austin, and Coast Guard Cutter Katherine Walker moored at Staten Island’s Stapleton Pier. This year, more than 76,000 people visited the ships alone.

Given the robust schedule, Nina moved across the city, catching a helicopter demonstration; a Times Square demonstration of "static displays," martial arts and military dogs by the 10th Marine Regiment from Camp Lejeune; and Marine Corps Day in Central Park, incorporating vehicles and weapons used by Marine infantry battalions and sniper teams.

What makes the photography almost endlessly compelling is the way it cover so much territory.  Woven through are themes and issues involving militarism, security, NYC, 9/11, race, class, guns, youth, identity, the uniform, and more.  Just like Nina's "Marine Wedding" image, which circulated so widely last February, raised so many questions about the impact of our involvement in Iraq, I find these images equally determined to investigate the current state and status of post-9/11 America.

What I'd like to do, barring major news interceding, is to post an image or two over three days, asking a different question of each.

In the Military.com article I linked to above, a Manhattan resident, Matthew Sheller, is quoted as following:

“I think it's encouraging having the [Sailors and Marines] here in town…. “I think sometimes New York needs a rejuvenation of American spirit.”

Nina wrote me that, from Central Park, to Orchard Beach in the Bronx, to Times Square, she never heard a word of dissent about the military displays –  except one woman in Times Square who said to her friend: "Let's get out of here, this is wigging me out."  My thoughts move in the same direction.  The primary question I have, looking at this shot from Times Square of a Marine Corp exhibition (as well as all of the photos Nina showed to me, in fact), is: Where's any irony?

>>Note:  If you have questions or comments for Nina, she'll be available to answer in the discussion thread<<

Other Fleet Week posts:

Black Boys With Guns: Fleet Week #2

It's Not A Hand Gun, It's Military:
Fleet Week #3



Nina Berman website.

Nina's Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq
website/purchase

(image: Nina Berman/Redux. NYC, New York, May 26, 2007.  Used by permission)

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for BagNews here.

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