Tuesday morning broke cold but sunny, giving us the opportunity to make a long walk across Antwerp. Like so many old cities, the streets of Antwerp twist and turn in paths that were designed for people and horses, rather than cars and buses. A street will continue for perhaps no more than a block or two, then suddenly change names, divide, or bend around a traffic circle to continue in a totally different direction. Thus, with a couple of wrong turns, did our 35 minute walk become most of an hour before we arrived at our first destination of the day, Antwerp’s Provincial FotoMuseum. Located just a couple of blocks east of the riverfront, FoMu presents frequently changing exhibits of historic and contemporary photography.
At the time of our visit, the museum was featuring exhibits of photos from Nepal and South America, but I was enthralled by Shooting Range, which examined the use of the camera as both a documentary instrument and a propaganda weapon during World War I. In addition to thousands of photos (including stereoscopic images of life in the trenches), the exhibit featured period cameras, postcards, newspaper accounts, and silent films. The program also included an elaborate slideshow projected on three wide screens across an entire wall of the exhibit. Visitors were invited to sit on simple benches to view the continuous program, as others strolled among the displays. I saw at least one group of school-age students undertaking a formal tour, while at a long table several college-age people were sorting through boxes of images, perhaps as part of some historical research project. For my part, I was transfixed by the sometimes haunting, sometimes horrible story of Shooting Range, and I wished that all of my photographer friends and colleagues could have the chance to visit this terrific facility.