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Making Art from the Work of Murdered Journalist Jim Foley


When photo-journalist James Foley was brutally murdered by ISIS five years ago this summer, he left behind a backpack that held years of video and photos he had shot in war zones from Libya to Syria.

Now Brooklyn artist Bradley McCallum is working with Foley’s unseen images to produce a series of paintings that “both honors Jim and takes the next step beyond simply being a memorial.”

McCallum, in an interview for “Brian Ross Investigates” on the Law&Crime Network, says he seeks to celebrate Foley’s work and bring it out from the shadow cast by Foley’s tragic death – seen around the world in a shocking and graphic ISIS video of his beheading.

McCallum conceived the idea after a student raised the issue of Foley’s execution video in a class McCallum taught at Columbia Law School. Searching the internet afterwards, McCallum realized that “all you would find were the evidences of his execution.”

So McCallum, whose work as a conceptual artist focuses on issues of social justice, reached out to Foley’s mother, Diane, “and asked permission to use his footage to begin thinking of how painting and the visual arts could resurrect and rethink his legacy.”

He recalls in his studio the moment when he first saw the hard drives that Foley’s mother retrieved from her son’s backpack.

“At that moment I plugged his hard drives into my computer with Diane there and we started going through his filing system and his archive for the first time. At that point this project became very personal.” He adds, “it is a responsibility.”

McCallum’s project incorporates silk prints – sometimes of Foley’s images, other times of pages from Foley’s meticulously hand written journals – that he creates on a giant printing press at Duggal Visual Solutions in Brooklyn, which has become a major sponsor of the project.

McCallum carefully overlays the delicate silks on top of his own intricate oil paintings that recreate scenes Foley captured. Speaking of a painting with a print of a page from Foley’s journal on top, McCallum told Ross: “For me it’s not important that you read every sentence that Jim wrote, but that you pick up a phrase or a sentence and you begin to understand. I open a door so that you begin to bring your own questions to bear.”

Combing through Foley’s work has allowed McCallum to gain an even greater appreciation of the journalist whose work his project celebrates. By screening the material on Foley’s hard drives, McCallum has “sort of followed his footsteps day by day.” “I felt his compassion and his ability to look at and see and connect to the plight of the individuals who were experiencing the hardships” he covered through his journalism. According to McCallum, Foley was someone “who was capturing beauty in very difficult situations.”

McCallum hopes that by telling Foley’s story, he might also strike at something more universal. “I’m trying to tell a story that is about Jim, but I’m also trying to tell a story that’s much broader, that looks at the ethics of journalism and of truth telling. A story that gives a space to think about what it means to be in harm’s way and what it means to show the story of the other, and how that framing of another person’s story becomes part of the fabric of our lives and hopefully changes the way we think.”

Reflecting on the project, McCallum said that “None of these paintings would exist if Jim wasn’t as committed to telling the stories he told. I’m not using anyone else’s images…In a way it feels often like I’m collaborating with Jim.”

[image via/Bradley McCallum]

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