In June 2008 Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin travelled to Afghanistan to be embedded with British Army units on the front line in Helmand Province. Along with their cameras, they took a roll of photographic paper, contained in a simple lightproof cardboard box.
They arrived during the deadliest month of the war. On the first day of their visit a BBC fixer was dragged from his car and executed and nine Afghan soldiers were killed in a suicide attack. The following day, three British soldiers died, pushing the number of British combat fatalities to 100. Casualties continued until the fifth day when nobody died. In response to each of these events, and also to a series of more mundane moments, such as a visit to the troops by the Duke of York and a press conference, all events a photographer would record, Broomberg & Chanarin instead unrolled a six-meter section of the paper and exposed it to the sun for 20 seconds. The results seen here deny the viewer the cathartic effect offered up by the conventional language of photographic responses to conflict and suffering.
Working in tandem with this deliberate evacuation of content, are the circumstances of the works' production, which amount to an absurd performance in which the British Army, unsuspectingly, played the lead role. Co-opted by the artists into transporting the box of photographic paper from London to Helmand, these soldiers helped in transporting the box from one military base to another, on Hercules and Chinooks, on buses, tanks and jeeps. In this performance, presented as a film, the box becomes an absurd, subversive object, its non-functionality sitting in quietly amused contrast to the functionality of the system that for a time served as its host. Like a barium test, the journey of the box became, when viewed from the right perspective, an analytical process, revealing the dynamics of the machine in its quotidian details, from the logistics of war to the collusion between the media and the military. The Day Nobody Died comprises of a series of radically non-figurative, unique, action-photographs, offering a profound critique of conflict photography in the age of embedded journalism and the current crisis in the concept of the engaged, professional witness.