Theory & Practice

Philip Jones Griffith’s Dark Odyssey

Philip Jones-Griffiths' eagerly anticipated retrospective traces his 40-year journey documenting war-torn areas across the globe

Philip Jones Griffiths

Since ancient times, the shield has presented a challenge to military designs --- how to see the enemy without sacrificing protection. The latest development is one made of Plexiglas. Unfortunately (...)

Philip Jones Griffiths’ Dark Odyssey traces his 40-year journey through a chaotic world, from his native Wales to the ravaged villages of war-torn Vietnam, through Europe, Africa, and Asia in more than one hundred black-and-white photographs.

The collision of culture and ideology is often the basis of Griffiths’ work, sometimes in simple pairings of figures, other times in a dizzying throng of life. Love, death, frivolity, politics, violence; the images in Dark Odyssey (the first collection since Griffiths’ acclaimed Vietnam Inc. in 1971) comment on virtually every aspect of human life, offering a gripping and unforgettable view of both the beauty and devastation of our era, with an in-depth profile of the photographer by the New Yorker writer, Murray Sayle.

Below we revisit a selection of images from the book, with the original captions as written by Jones Griffiths.

This young boy epitomizes our Welsh ambivalent love for both rugby and music. This place, Pant-y-Wean, was once, in the 1930s, voted the most Beautiful Village in South Wales, but it has long since (...)
The battle for Saigon. Refugees under fire. Confused urban warfare was such that Americans were shooting their staunchest supporters. Vietnam. 1968.
In an asinine attempt to resolve the war in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger widened the conflict by invading Cambodia. Ostensibly this was to eliminate the Vietcong's headquarters. The scheme failed, (...)
The confidence of youth is enhanced by wearing fashionable clothes. This allows them to deride those outside the dictates of advertisers. France. 1965.
All societies that have embraced consumerism owe a huge debt to the media for facilitating its acceptance. Thailand. 1977.

"My camera has given me opportunities to witness the deceit implicit in conflicts and my goal is to see through the deception."

- Philip Jones Griffiths
This woman was tagged, probably by a sympathetic corpsman, with the designation VNC (Vietnamese civilian). This was unusual. Wounded civilians were normally tagged VCS (Vietcong suspect) and all (...)
Woman wearing a bra sold to her by missionaries to cover up her nakedness. Missionaries are obsessed with breasts. These storm troopers of cultural imperialism impose brassieres on reluctant women (...)
The incongruities of daily life in the urban war zone. For years, the people of Northern Ireland lived in a strange and strained symbiosis with the occupying British army. Northern Ireland. 1973.
Demented boy. The sons of the Dinka people of Southern Sudan look after the family cattle often miles away from their villages. When government soldiers massacre the inhabitants the boys are often (...)
Social change in the 1960s had the positive effect of taking some pressure off men to behave always in a dominant manner. Here the girl was behaving like a man. England, UK. 1961.

"The camera requires one to be there — a photographer is denied the luxury of philosophizing from afar."

- Philip Jones Griffiths
The battle for Saigon. U.S. policy in Vietnam was based on the premise that peasants driven into the towns and cities by the carpet-bombing of the countryside would be safe. Furthermore, removed f (...)
This brother and sister reacted to being photographed in a way that reveals the inherently different levels of self-esteem observable in children. She was alive with the solipsism of youth, while h (...)
A fighter with the West Somalia Liberation Front. To compensate for food shortages, the soldiers consumed large quantities of 'khat', a leaf containing an amphetamine-like substance. This gave rise (...)
State prison. The American justice system directs attention away from corporate crime. A deluge of trivia about murder and mayhem is provided, sending the message that everyone is wallowing in orig (...)
A rare moment when the constituent symbols of colonialism come together in a frame. On a French sugar plantation the owner, with his dog, guide visiting priests around the garden of his mansion. Ma (...)
Philip Jones Griffiths These children were playing on a piece of spare ground where a factory once stood. They belong to the ever-increasing population of a wasteland where, for political reasons, education and opportuni (...)

In the latest episode of Magnum Book Club on Instagram, Retail and Publications Manager Chilli Power takes a look at a first edition of Dark Odyssey from the Magnum Library in London.

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