This is the story of a child who enjoys playing war games, but does not realise that what he’s depicting is, in fact, reality. This is the story of an adult who delves into History. He does not realise what he’s doing either. He thinks he’s grown up. He doesn’t realise that he’s a child.
The project that I propose here could be viewed as both an exhibition catalogue and acollection of stories. Here you will find my photographs in high definition, as requested, but if the images are the heart of this project, then the text is its soul. To me, it demands to be read as both text and image, image and text. It is the parallels between the two that generate the contrasts.
A story wanting to be told.
CHARNEL OF THE BRITISH-INFANTERY 240x140cm
At the outbreak of war in 1914, the British Army sent nearly 700,000 men to the Continent, six divisions of infantry and one of cavalry. This war effort may seem modest in comparison with the roughly 1,650,000 French soldiers mobilised, but it should be borne in mind that, at the time, the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) recruited on a voluntary basis.
These thousands of foot soldiers, as well as those who joined up later, had to suffer more than four years of the horrors of trench warfare – the deafening and continuous violence, the disease, the epidemics, the waves of suicidal attacks, ordered by the top brass, as well as the first chemical weapons.
While the confrontation was terrifying, the endless waiting drove people mad. The axe blade was poised; the only question was from what height it would fall.
The BEF lost 673,375 dead and missing as military victims of the First World War.
Leaving aside those treated as cannon fodder, for those who fell in combat, as well as for the few who survived, the trenches were a mass grave that claimed the lives of a generation of young Europeans.
FIELD OF HONOUR 80x110cm
Scattered like a handful of pine needles in fresh snow, they are piled up in groups orsleep alone in a corner of the clearing.
Cold and ice have frozen them where they breathed their last, sometimes beside those they had been fighting only minutes before.
Some, or most, turned over with a last effort, to look up at the heavens, blotting out the death all around them for a final glimpse of peaceful solace. Tree trunks waving slowly in the winter wind release dustings of a fine and gentle snow.
Death has the power to blend the colours of different armies together, in a final display of brotherhood; once it has come, all motivation, ambition and self interest are forgotten.
Death has no politics. Politics, on the other hand…
HMS HOOD 140x100cm
On the 24th of May 1941, at 5 o’clock in the morning, Admiral Holland was not sleeping. He looked at the riveted sheet metals of his cabin and contemplated its thickness. A few centimetres of armoured steel lay between him and his crew and the frozen waters of the Denmark Strait, where they had been cruising for several hours as they waited for the confrontation.
It was this insufficient armour plating that was the battle cruiser HMS Hood’s weakness. The Admiral knew it, and the Admiralty had known it for longer still, without ever having committed to the necessary redesign.
And now that war had been declared, it would never happen anyway. All forces had been mobilised, in whatever condition they were in.
It was 05h 05 on the morning of May the 24th, 1941 when there were three knocks on the door of Admiral Hood’s cabin. His ship’s captain did not wait for his superior’s permission, and opened the cabin door to inform the Admiral that the German battleship Bismarck had been sighted.
55 minutes later, an enemy shell pierced the insufficiently armoured ammunition stores, which exploded instantly. The resulting fireball reached several hundred metres into the air. The HMS Hood, literally broken in two, sank within minutes.
Of the 1,419 crew, three survived.
PEARL HARBOR 60x60cm
Le pilote inclina son manche, engagea un demi tour en léger piqué, il se positionna à 2500 pieds et arma la chambre photographique situé dans la soute de son appareil. Un deuxième passage était toujours recommandé afin de satisfaire les services de renseignement de clichés étayant sa propre analyse. Il appuya sur la gâchette.