One month ago I went to Tate Modern to see the exhibition Conflict of Time. It is a wonderful collection of pictures that was taken all around the world about war. I spent some hours there because it has a lot of images and historical information, so it takes time to see everything. In the end I was mentally tired but some pictures captured my attention. I stayed looking at them for some minutes; then I took my way home.
A whole month passed, and those images keep in my mind. So I decided to research about them. The name of the photographer is Chloe Dewe Mathews. She researched files relating to soldiers shot during World War One and returned to the location where they were executed to photograph the day and time that most closely approximated the dates of their deaths. Chloe used an analog camera do this project and spend a year to achieve her objectives. The result is amazing. In an interview to The Guardian, she told a history about this first image:
“James Crozier was 16 when he presented himself at his local army recruiting office in Belfast in September 1914. He was accompanied by his mother, Elizabeth, who tried in vain to prevent him enlisting. The recruiting officer, who also happened to be called Crozier, assured her he would look out for her son and ‘would see that no harm comes to him’.
Throughout the winter of 1915-16, Private James Crozier fought on the Somme in the 36th Ulster Division, 9th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. In early February 1916, he failed to report for sentry duty in the trenches near Serre on the Western Front. A week later, he was found wandering in a daze some distance behind the front line. An army doctor examined him and declared him fit in both mind and body and, on 14 February 1916, he was court-martialled for desertion. James Crozier defended himself, saying that he had not known what he was doing when he went absent and had been wracked with pains throughout his body. He was sentenced to death.
Frank Crozier – the officer who had reassured Crozier’s mother – was asked to supply a recommendation as to whether or not the sentence should be commuted. He recommended that it should be carried out. On the eve of the execution, whether out of compassion or guilt, he insisted that the condemned soldier be plied with drink through the night. As dawn broke on 27 February 1916, 18-year-old Private James Crozier, a boy who had defied his mother to fight for his country, was carried, unconscious from alcohol, from a holding cell to the grounds of a commandeered villa nearby. As he was incapable of standing, he was tied upright to a post and blindfolded.”
I’m glad that I decided to discover more about this images. I found a touching and inspired project. This images and histories will be in my mind forever. It is impossible now to visit a place and don’t ask myself about what happened there in the past.
Here is the link with an video interview on The Guardian newspaper: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war