All Blood Runs Red

poppy3

 

 

It has been suggested to me that a few words accompanying my images might be of interest. Writing a blog has never really been high on my agenda - I have a brother who is a sub editor, another who is a habitual blogger for the LRB and a teenage niece who can spot a stray apostrophe from 500 metres, so apart from my long-held assumption that I have little of interest to say, the pressure is on to ensure there are no glaring grammatical blunders or careless cliches.
If any of my work needed a few words of explanation, then the most recent set of images of the installation at the Tower of London must certainly qualify. For those who are not familiar with it, a river of ceramic poppies - one for every British life lost -  is being created in the moat at the Tower. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red is an ongoing venture by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper with more and more poppies being added right up to Remembrance Day on November 11th, by which time 888,246 poppies will be in place.
To call it a beautiful sight is an understatement.  But how to approach such a big subject? Is it futile to even try? The horrors of the Great War have been documented so well by so many people with more artistic sensitivity than I could ever hope to achieve, that it  feels rather crass to get involved. So much easier to walk up the road and take a few snaps of the Shard.
As ever, I went along with no pre-conceived ideas except perhaps a hope that in-camera multiple exposures would blend the poppies together in a sea of red. I was also rather banking on a dark sky as the day had started dull and drizzly. Unfortunately just as I arrived at the Tower, the clouds parted and the midday sun shone down as bright and harsh as any photographer’s worst nightmare.
Of course it was thronged with sightseers, but the only people walking amongst the poppies in the moat were volunteers working on the project. I didn’t have a lot of time there and was not really very hopeful of success as the strong sun on the ceramic poppies was creating some pretty unappealing highlights. I shot off maybe 60 or 70 images, moving the camera, changing the exposure values, trying to abstract the detail and capture with dignity and respect what the installation represented.
I spent many hours sifting through the files, trying to decide exactly what it was I wanted to say, and how best to say it. As I had hoped, much of the detail had been lost, but I was faced with a sea of strong primary colours -  the clear blue sky, the emerald grass and the bright red poppies were altogether too frivolous to be anything more than a picture postcard representation. I rarely use Photoshop, but I do manipulate white balance, contrast and colour quite extensively in Lightroom. After many hours of twiddling sliders, I finally found a way forward by pushing the white balance to the right and changing the hue of the grass from emerald to gold. Although the colours were just as primitive, every bit as indiscreet, it felt like the right way to portray the monstrous brutality and bloodshed. I realise the colours are not a million miles away from those on the German flag; this was not a conscious decision.
My most recent with encounter WW1 imagery is Rob Hudson’s wonderful Mametz Wood project (words by David Jones) -  a remarkable venture that has been ongoing now for some time. Given its depth and dignity it seems ill-considered to churn something out in a couple of days. This has no poetry; it is bold and brash and lamentably unsubtle but, I hope, still conveys some emotion.
The installation continues to grow - I shall definitely return.

  1. Deborah L Hughes (non-registered) on 21/05/2016 at 9:17 am

    I found your description interesting as I’m not familiar with britain’s celebrations. Your title is poetry, it’s bold and to the point. Your image, well it’s poetry all by itself.

  2. Beata Moore on 21/05/2016 at 9:19 am

    Truly interesting blog and image, so nice to see your interpretation of the scene; I have visited the Tower today and was also struggling with light . I am not sure if I have created something meaningful, but the installation is very moving,.

  3. Sue Crawhall on 21/05/2016 at 9:19 am

    I found your blog descriptive and moving and made me determined to see it for myself.

  4. valdab on 21/05/2016 at 9:20 am

    thank you all for taking the time to read through and leave feedback.

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