War Stories: Landscapes of Conflict in
California, presented by Off-Axis. At Samy’s Camera Gallery.
Shows through September 30.

Reviewed by Darian Bleecher

As global conflict leaves a daily imprint on our collective
consciousness and we become desensitized to the consequences of
war, there is an increasing need to understand war’s impact on the
psyche. War Stories: Landscapes of Conflict in California,
an exhibition of documentary photographs by William B. Dewey and
Brett Leigh Dicks, does not depict the sites of physical battles or
mass executions. Instead, both photographers portray areas in
California that are far removed from actual combat — the Central
Coast and the Owens Valley basin. Each photographer subtly
illustrates the repercussions of war on the landscape and the human
experience. While Dewey examines the chilling preparations for
conflict, Dicks ponders its dramatic effects.

Brett Leigh Dicks was introduced to the history of Japanese
internment in California through the firsthand accounts of a
relative. Dicks has subsequently frequented Manzanar, the site of a
deeply shameful chapter in American history. Ever since the Army
enclosed one square mile of arid land with barbed wire and detained
more than 10,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, it has
been difficult to accurately describe Manzanar. Dicks captures the
ghosts of this location’s unfortunate past in delicately rendered
black-and-white images that belie the tragic history of their

Best known for his intricate botanical photos and spectacular
aerial landscape imagery, William B. Dewey has recently turned his
attention to architecture. Through this, he became acquainted with
the unnerving remains of Lompoc’s abandoned intercontinental
ballistic missile site. A gaping bunker doorway flanked by phallic
hieroglyphics is just one of the images shown here that symbolize
the machismo of warfare and present a wry observation of the
deserted compound, which was once capable of launching global
conflict, and today is carelessly strewn with debris, corroded
equipment, and bird droppings.

Images throughout the exhibition convey the haunting stillness
of each location; one seems to hear the crunch of dried grass
underfoot and feel the despair that remains in these locales.
Although it may be impossible to atone for past sins of war, it is
critical to learn from wartime errors and to avoid repeating
history, particularly in light of the current global state of
affairs. In documenting these grim remnants of conflicts past, both
Dewey and Dicks offer a poignant reminder that the footprint of
discord is indelible, impossible to abrogate with desert snows or
coastal winds.


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