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Artist: Adam Broomberg, South African, born 1970
Artist: Oliver Chanarin, British, born 1971

The Day Nobody Died V, June 10, 2008


Chromogenic print on Dibond

image: 76.2 × 600 cm (30 × 236 1/4 in.)
sheet: 76.2 × 600 cm (30 × 236 1/4 in.)
support: 76.2 × 600 cm (30 × 236 1/4 in.)
Richard Brown Baker, B.A. 1935, Fund

In June 2008, posing as journalists, the London based artists traveled to Helmand Province in Afghanistan to embed with the British army. Now a common practice in war zones, embedding allows direct access to military personnel and key sites in exchange for protection and certain restrictions on what can be photographed or reported. Invented by the army to control how journalists cover conflict, this system has been widely criticized for presenting a sanitized view of wars.

In an attempt to resist the embedding process, Broomberg and Chanarin did not take a single figurative photograph during their brief time in Afghanistan. Instead of cameras, the artists travelled with a 50-meter-long roll of photographic paper contained in a lightproof, cardboard box. The variegated colors reflect the traces of the work’s making: the long scroll of rolled photographic paper was packaged in a cardboard box and transported from the artists’ studio in London to Helmand Province and back by the British army. Light gradually leaked in at the seams of the box, and the photographic exposures were made by unrolling lengths of light-sensitive photographic paper in the hot Afghan sun.

They arrived during the deadliest month of the war to date. On their fifth day in Afghanistan, and the first that did not involve any fatalities, they unrolled a six-meter section of the photographic paper and exposed it to the sun for 20 seconds, producing five unique exposures. These photographs became the series The Day Nobody Died I-V. The washes of grainy color are simply traces of a chemical process, abstract patterns created by exposure to heat and light. They performed this same action in response to several “newsworthy” events, unrolling additional sections in the sun. The titles point to events both serious and mundane: The Fixer’s Execution; The Brothers’ Suicide; The Day of One Hundred Dead; The Press Conference; The Duke of York; The Repatriation.

The results are the inverse of traditional reportage; these singular, non-figurative photographs deny the viewer any cathartic effect offered by much conventional war photography. The composition of these images is accidental: created by the temperature of light on that day, at that moment, in that place.

The soldiers who helped transport the box become unwitting participants in a video that accompanies the work. For twenty-three minutes, with the camera is trained exclusively on the box, the video offers a glimpse into the discipline and daily routine of a deployed soldier, the checks on free will, and some of the constraints enforced by military bureaucracy. At times, the artists were asked to turn off their camera. The gaps in the footage point to the collusion between the media and the military in which access is traded for protection.

Not on view
21st century
Works on Paper - Photographs

Lisson Gallery, New York/London and the artists


“Acquisitions July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017,” https://artgallery.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/bulletin/Pub-Bull-acquisitions-2017.pdf (accessed December 1, 2017).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.