Inescapable Truths: James Foley's Indelible Legacy

Paintings: oil on linen, toner on silk, with augmented reality video


Inescapable Truths is an exhibition by Bradley McCallum about the devastation of war, the threats to civilians in the crossfire, and the role of journalism in telling these stories.

James “Jim” Foley was a conflict journalist who covered violent civil wars in Libya and Syria. In 2012, he was captured in Syria; nearly two years later he was beheaded by his captors in a public YouTube video that shocked the world. This year marks 10 years since Foley’s death.

Conflict journalists expose us to violent strife around the world and share the plight of those caught in the crossfire. Foley’s life was dedicated to documenting and sharing the stories of the individuals at the heart of wars to promote civil and political action.

Bradley McCallum uses Foley’s video footage from the civil wars in Libya and Syria to create oil paintings that he further activates with augmented reality, allowing viewers to experience Foley’s presence, and the footage that inspired the paintings.

Inescapable Truths: The Augmented Reality Experience

McCallum uses AR technology to allow viewers an opportunity to experience the footage that Foley took in the field. Each video sequence is drawn from a given day’s footage and gives a unique perspective to Foley’s work as a journalist and the stories he covered in Libya and Syria.

Jim's legacy

James W. Foley envisioned a world that respected the dignity and life of each person, regardless of socioeconomic status, cultural background, or nationality. His life demonstrated an uncompromising commitment to the freedom of the press and advocacy for basic human rights. Jim was known for his caring and joyful spirit, commitment, and bold idealism. He gave a voice to those marginalized by poverty and conflict. Jim befriended them, listened to their stories and advocated for them. Jim was driven by a deep compassion for those without a voice.

"My works serves as a memorial," says McCallum, "a site of public remembrance that shifts our focus from the graphic images of his execution to his life and the stories he reported on." (2017)


Inescapable Truths, includes 20 oil paintings created in McCallum’s signature style; layering photographic silk scrims over oil paintings. The silk envelopes the painting and subtly obscures the image depicted on the canvas. Additional works use photographic silk panels to activate testimony by Diane Foley, Jim’s mother using augmented reality.

Mercy (Benghazi, Libya, March 19th 2011, 6:06 am)


Early in the Libyan Arab Spring, the fighting was sporadic and chaotic. During one such violent incident, Foley recorded still photos and video of a field ambulance returning from the front with two casualties. In the AR video, the victims are bloody and you can hear Jim confirming if they are Benghazi civilians. The silk overlay captures two frames of this scene, diffusing the brutality of the moment and encapsulating the hectic, disorganized turmoil of the early fighting.

59" x 87.25" x 3.5"

oil on linen, toner on silk, with augmented reality video

In this project, McCallum transforms Foley’s archive into poetic works of which transcend to the politics of war and terrorism, furthermore, he emphasizes the essential role of journalists while acknowledging Foley's moral courage and profound sacrifices in the field.


Inescapable Truths: James Foley's Indelible Legacy

Dittmar Memorial Gallery & Northwestern Main Library, Northwestern University


Dittmar Memorial Gallery

Northwestern Main Library

Inescapable Truths: Work in Progress

Gallery at Wagner, NYU Wagner Center, New York City


Each year, the percentage of adults in the United States who can’t remember a time when our country was not engaged in the War on Terror jumps precipitously. For the last 20 years, we have been inundated with images of soldiers halfway across the world. We see these as part of the news cycle, inuring us to the horrors involved, dehumanizing the conflict, the participants, the bystanders.

James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped and ultimately murdered by ISIS, sought to present a broader truth of the conflicts he covered. Bradley McCallum’s in-progress body of work Inescapable Truths, based on video, photography, notes, and other items from Foley’s archive, builds on Foley’s legacy. His work, which felt engaging, provocative, thoughtful, and powerful a few months ago, feels increasingly necessary and poignant today. It serves as a reminder of the illuminating role of art by providing a visual interpretation of the complex effects of war.

Inescapable Truths is about conflict, journalism, storytelling, humanity. McCallum uses oil painting and printing on silk to present a unique set of images that are simultaneously Foley’s and his own. The process is unmistakably McCallum’s; developed over years of making political art focused on re-centering stories of marginalization. His practice is one that highlights voices that are often ignored from within stories that we are so used to hearing. Because it takes effort to discern which part of the image is painted and which is printed, his paintings alter our perceptions and expectations. Some of the works seem to draw us in, while others seem to push us away. The experience is disorienting and engrossing all at once; it is hard to know where to look, and hard to look away.

This unease is intentional—we are not meant to feel comfort with these works. As we find ourselves in the midst of political crisis and at the precipice of another cycle of destruction, it is the artists who continue to hold us accountable and tell the untold stories, that deserve our attention. Although McCallum initially created this body of work to redirect the public memory of Foley away from the viral video of his death and towards the intensity and purpose of his life, the impact of the work is a reminder that armed conflicts are ongoing, and that we are very much involved. 

— Sophie Olympia Riese

Guest Curator


  • 2024

  • 2020

  • 2019

  • 2018

  • Acknowledgements

    The artist gratefully acknowledges the support and trust of Diane Foley and The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.

    The Foundation was started by Diane Foley in 2014. Their mission is to advocate for the safe return of all Americans detained abroad, to protect independent conflict journalists and to educate regarding these threats to our freedom.


    Northwestern University Libraries

    Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications

    Lisa and Steve Knight

    Efe Ozmen, Video Editor

    Tactic Studios, for the AR Design

    8th Wall, for the AR Platform