Photography exposes the truths of war and loss

Shannon Benine, associate professor of photography, discusses her artwork over the recent years and how COVID has inspired her art Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Dining Room. Her talk, “If You Can Read the Ocean You Will Never Be Lost,” was part of the weekly faculty lecture series. / photo by Shira O'Neal-Abend
Shannon Benine, associate professor of photography, discusses her artwork over the recent years and how COVID has inspired her art Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Dining Room. Her talk, “If You Can Read the Ocean You Will Never Be Lost,” was part of the weekly faculty lecture series. / photo by Shira O’Neal-Abend

Sarah Van Buskirk
Associate Sports Editor

Shannon Benine, professor of photography at the University of La Verne, shed light on the state of war in our country through photographs she captured during the faculty lecture Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room.

Roughly 20 community members attended to view Benine’s various works she had traveled across the U.S. to acquire. 

Benine started off by presenting some of her undergraduate work –  since a few of her students were in the audience. 

Benine said she decided to base her work around long exposure at night. She said that those pieces provide an alternate view of landscapes that often go unnoticed. 

Benine then moved onto her graduate work, which was personal and emotional. 

In October 2005 she lost her cousin to suicide, she told the audience.

“I began to question the validity of my subjects as well as my focus, shifting to more personal topics,” she said. 

After that, Benine took a trip to West Hope, North Dakota, to shadow her aunt who recently had inherited mineral rights to oil wells. 

Her project titled ‘West Hope: Above and Below’ captured the town itself, the people, and the biodiesel fields over the course of three years. 

Benine said she experienced all of the seasons in West Hope from the freezing winters to the lively summers.

Benine said she worked on multiple projects at once due to the lengthiness of each project. While she was working on her West Hope project, she also worked on her project titled “The Regular” in collaboration with her cousin Casey who was being deployed to Iraq. 

“The first thing I did with Casey was I gave him a bunch of disposable cameras,” Benine said. “I taught him a bit about photography.”

Benine also gave her cousin a prompt to focus the photos on a particular topic. 

She asked him where he felt least secure; his response was in the truck doing supply runs. Casey would shoot photos on the disposable camera, while deployed, then send them back to Benine.

“I was living in Chicago at the time (and) I was seeing remnants of Illinois in these pictures coming back from Iraq and found that really intriguing,” Benine said. 

The end to ‘The Regular’ came when Casey returned from his deployment. She noticed after her cousin’s homecoming that his experience of trauma was evident. 

Benine presented her piece “Waiting Room” which communicated the trauma that Casey had been carrying. 

Benine said the heart of this installation was a video titled ‘Moth,’ a two-minute video of a toy moth that was dangling in the bedroom of Casey’s daughter. 

In the background of the video was an audio of a mortar attack on U.S. soldiers from an anonymous helmet cam. 

Benine played the video and the audio, which exposed the fear and danger that soldiers experience in war. The sounds of loud explosions and the soldiers praying to God that they make it out alive projected a dark tone to the piece.

“For me, that piece in particular was about confronting my own stereotypes about being a Marine, or abroad, or at war,” Benine said.

Benine said she believes war should be avoided at all costs, but we should not forget the human side of war and the human cost of war, not only to the soldiers but their families. 

After finishing that project, Benine said she needed to do something for herself. 

She began the project “Means Without End” which consists of thousands of 10 inch by 10 inch unfolded photograms of peace cranes tiled together in a mosaic form. 

Benine exhibited this piece in a small gallery in Chicago that was open to the public. 

“The number of color analog photograms represents the number of American deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, 2003,” Benine said.

Benine said the project represented a military-like tent where people could walk into it. Once you walked in, a secret speaker was hidden at the top of the project where it played the audio of the mortar attack. 

Benine’s goal for the installation as a whole was for it to stand as a memorial to those soldiers whose lives have been lost in war. 

To view Benine’s photography, visit shannonbenine.com

Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at sarah.vanbuskirk@laverne.edu

Sarah Van Buskirk is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. She is the Spring 2024 editorial director for the Campus Times and has recently served as editor-in-chief, sports editor and staff writer. She is also currently a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine, and a staff writer for La Verne Magazine.

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