Poppy

Last year to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, the artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper collaborated on an installation at the Tower of London called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.  

To say that it captured the public’s imagination would be a gross understatement; five million visitors came to see it in person, there was a campaign to extend its display for longer, and the sale of the individual ceramic poppies when it was dismantled was heavily over-subscribed.

Being one of many events that marked the 100 years it could be said that all that interest was stirred by a sense of the nation seeking to pay its respects to the hundreds of thousands of war dead, and that it certainly true, but I think there was something else at work here.  The power of the poppy itself.APW_3430

The flower’s use as a symbol of remembrance stems back to John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields, though he makes no use of it as metaphor, merely observing the existence of the poppy in the landscape churned and shattered by warfare.  With a bullet-hole of blackness at its heart, surrounded by blood-red petals it could have been put to greater use.APW_3389

It may be that this similarity prompted others to take up its use of course; though interestingly in France it has not been adopted in the same way.  Their remembrance flower is cornflower blue.

But back to McCrae.  In writing his poem I feel he would have found it hard to ignore the scarlet of the poppy, it has the ability to jump out of any landscape so vivid is its hue.  It demands your attention.

Artists and photographers have long been drawn to the subject, and in my experience I recall incurring the wrath of a farmer while trying to photograph my youngest daughter in a poppy field (she was mortified), and when the fields around Penshaw Monument were stained red a few years back finding that wherever you went to try to find the perfect composition there was someone else setting up their tripod.

Holly & Poppy
Holly & Poppy

For the last couple of weeks a small patch of the wildflowers has been screaming for attention as I head south from my Durham home (a regular occurrence) and yesterday I finally took a detour whilst out cycling to see if there was a shot to be had.  In seeking to answer that question I had to fight through hawthorn bushes planted around the field’s perimeter and so traded my blood for theirs.

And here’s the difficulty.  That crimson that so demands attention seems to overwhelm both sensor and computer screen.  In processing the images you risk dullness or over-saturation.  There seems to be no happy medium so I found myself resorting to being more creative with the colours and light.  The call was worth answering all the same.

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Remembrance

100 years to the day since the “War to End All Wars” and the world is still mired in armed conflicts.  With no survivors of that war still alive, and very few from the Second World War, there has been some debate about whether we should continue to remember, and whether the form of such remembrance might change.

I think so long as young men continue to sacrifice lives for their country and it’s politics the act will continue and evolve.  The public response to the Tower of London ceramic poppies has been extraordinary.  Here in the North East I encountered lots of poppy sellers yesterday; some were military cadets as expected, but others were students and ordinary members of the public.  There is clearly a public desire to mark the occasion, and with the deaths of so many British soldiers in Afghanistan it seems stronger than ever and exploring new ways to raise awareness.

Coincidence or Something Subliminal?

Having photographed a number of waves yesterday, and chosen a surfer for my portrait I wanted an appropriate title.  Soft Cell‘s “Say Hello and Wave Goodbye” was playing on my mind for some time, but even the most tenuous links to my pictures weren’t happening for me, so I ended up with a song by Sting against my better judgement.  To be fair, I do love the Dream of the Blue Turtles, probably because the band he assembled included a shipload of jazz talent including Omar Hakim, Kenny Kirkland and the incredibly lyrical saxophonist Branford MarsalisLove is the Seventh Wave provided my inspiration; appropriate as there is an urban myth amongst surfers that the 7th wave is always better than the six that precede it.

Anyway, I digress.  Earlier in the day before deciding on my wave theme I had an idea that shooting people candidly at bus stops might be interesting.  Waiting for buses requires people to find a way of passing the time or engaging in polite, and perhaps unwanted, conversation with someone else in the queue.  Either might produce some interesting expressions or movement.

I shot a few odds and ends but was saving myself for the bus station thinking that I would find a wealth of material there.  It proved otherwise, the waiting areas just weren’t conducive to my needs, but the same harsh light that has been around this week was cutting a swathe through an opening in the side of the building.  I was reminded of another image by Trent Parke from his Dream/Life series, and whilst there wasn’t enough darkness around to replicate the full effect with a wide shot, I was able to frame a couple of passers-by who were dressed in light clothing against a darker background to get the effect shown here.

In each case though I think they needed a mass of normally exposed people around them to give them the truly surreal effect.  As it is they look a lot like mistakes so I gave the idea no more thought.  (This the second time I’ve failed to replicate his work!)

So back to the 7th Wave, and having chosen that option I googled it to remind myself more of the thinking behind the theory, and was vaguely aware that the images option seemed to consist largely of underwater shots of people in turbulent water.  I thought no more of it until this evening when I was researching Mr Parke once more.  There were the same images, from a collection entitled… The Seventh Wave.  How spooky is that?

I went out the following day to shoot my portrait, which is of John, with no attempt to emulate Parke.  I wanted to find someone at a bus stop but bumped into John just beside one (that counts doesn’t it?) and knew I wanted to photograph him.   I’m normally not a fan of spot colour, but when I realised that he would be my entry for 11th November it seemed the right thing to do.