FotoFest Exhibitions

Paul Shambroom

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As with all wars, technology often shifts, yet certain weapons that become obsolete may retain their symbolic meaning. Paul Shambroom is fascinated by the obsolete weapons on view in communities across the United States. Town squares, city parks, armories, and VFW and American Legion posts all display retired weapons from past wars involving the United States. Initially built for combat, these objects play entirely different roles in their new settings: as memorial, tourist attraction, retail signage, playground equipment, historical artifact. Shambroom hopes that pictures of these weapons will lead us to consider the complexities of a community’s response to war and remembrance of war in America. His fascination and curiosity is driven by several questions. Why is a machine that was made for killing used as a memorial to the dead? Does a tank or artillery weapon help a community mourn and heal from its losses, or is it intended to inspire new generations of warriors? Can it do both? As these weapons age, as their surfaces weather, and as technologies turn obsolete, do the weapons lose their association with violence and death? With our nation once again at war, what can these relics of previous wars teach us about the United States and other societies’ proclivity for armed conflict, and humanity’s implicit, ongoing endorsement of war?


Paul Shambroom is a photographer who explores American power and culture. For over twenty years he has documented subjects ranging from industrial and office environments, the U.S. nuclear arsenal, small town council meetings, and post-9/11 “Homeland Security” preparations. His current project is Shrines: Public Weapons in America, images of retired weapons “that are not scrapped often are given second lives in the public sphere, mounted in places of honor in communities across the United States .” Shambroom’s work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, both in New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and many others. His photographs were included in the 1997 Whitney Biennial and he has had solo exhibitions at many institutions including the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, and galleries in NY, Chicago, San Francisco and London. His work has been published in three monographs: Paul Shambroom: Picturing Power (Minneapolis: Weisman Art Museum, 2008), Meetings (London: Chris Boot,2004) and Face to Face with the Bomb: Nuclear Reality After the Cold War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2003). Shambroom received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Creative Capital Foundation, among others. He was born in Teaneck, NJ and lives in Minneapolis.