The intention was to write and blog about this project on a more regular basis – say, every month, but this is the first time I have pressed the keyboards since our project #BeforeTheyWereFallen received Arts Council funding back in August.
I’m beginning to realize that the sensitivities around the project make it very difficult to blog in the usual manner. I have started several times but how do you write without sounding trivial when you’re talking about a mother who has lost her son? A wife widowed; a child orphaned, siblings and friends bereaved and 453 British casualties? The blog as a format itself seems trivial.
What we can do is to say a huge thank you to the case studies who have participated. I/we want to thank all of you personally for your strength, your emotional commitment and also for ‘getting it’: for understanding what we are trying to do with this project.
In Before We Were Fallen we are attempting to bridge the gap between personal memory and our national tradition of ‘Remembrance’; to give a voice to the families and loved ones of our fallen soldiers. Nationally, remembrance tends to be a formal affair, led by the military where the whole country from the Queen and Prime Minister down to the citizen pays tribute to the bravery of our soldiers.
By its very nature there is distance created between the national act of remembering and the reality of the suffering for the loved ones left behind to cope with their very personal devastation. This distance has entrenched itself in our traditions: ‘we don’t intrude on personal grief’.
In this project we have a very intimate experience of remembrance; we have the privilege of understanding the soldiers as individuals through the raw and personal memories of surviving friends and families and are able to see the sacrifice of the soldiers more fully by understanding the impact on those left behind.
Many people will ask, why intrude on the grief of these people? Leave them alone. Many will be left alone and will want to be left alone, but there is a fine line between respectful distance and simply being ignored. We have discovered that for many, publicly sharing their memories, however personal, is a vital and important act of paying tribute and they do it for a variety of reasons.
Anne Linley, Birmingham, is doing this for her son Brett: “I want the world to remember my son Brett and his ultimate sacrifice for all time as I won’t always be here to make sure he is remembered. Every thing I do today, tomorrow and always, is for Brett and his memory”
Of course I understand those who would consider the project intrusive, and it is a social and ethical minefield which many would rather step back from, but I also remember back in Kosovo in 2000, when I interviewed and photographed survivors of the conflict for my first project on aftermath, how thankful people were that I had come to hear their stories that had never been told to an outsider before. I realised then, that for many, much worse than intrusion when a loved one is lost, is to be ignored.
So here we are: We have ten case studies completed and ideally we would like ten more. We would still particularly like to hear from soldiers, comrades and friends as well as families, so please feel free to share this.
We’d also like to take the opportunity here to thank Graham Bound, author of At the Going Down of the Sun – a hugely moving and important collection of stories about our fallen soldiers, plus interviews with their friends and families. Graham has helped put us in touch with families which has been very generous of him – thank you Graham!
We would also like to extend our thanks to all those we haven’t thanked before: the folks at Hanbury Hall and Ashridge Arms in Cwmbran, Wales for example for allowing us to photograph on their premises.
Before I sign off, I/we’d like to reveal the confirmed dates of the first show in London at Four Corners Gallery, 121 Roman road as Monday 14th to Saturday 26th of September .