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And now the Torch and Poppy Red, We wear in honor of our dead


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And now the Torch and Poppy Red, We wear in honor of our dead

2 Nov 2009 3:07PM   Views : 620 Unique : 471

Mornings have that extra chill that catches your breath as you step outside. The dew that bit heavier as it lingers in the half light. The trees disrobe of their tapestry of colour, falling gently to the floor like a robe to reveal their stark splendour. The kingdom of darkness extends it sphere, as shorter days concede to the predestined inception of winter. With the inimitable quality of late autumn and early winter as the transition between seasons occurs, it’s November.

The Christian feast of all souls day, and Remembrance Sunday afford a faintly morbid atmosphere that clings to early November like ivy to a wall. Everywhere is covered in a shroud of gray, like the skin on a dying man. What limited colour there is can be found adorning the lapels of the populous, remembering those who have prematurely gone before, misplaced to the ravages of war, to be known collectively as “The Glorious Dead”.

With Henry Allingham and Harry Patch having been reunited with their regimental colleagues, “the war to end all wars” has ceased to be living history in Britain. Now we must depend on archives to recall one of mankind’s darkest hours.

When 19th century photographic pioneer Roger Fenton went to the Crimea in 1855 to witness the military campaign there, he became the first person to use photography to document a war. His photographs were commissioned to help counteract the mounting antiwar feeling amongst the British public. Fenton avoided photographing the dead, injured or mutilated soldiers that abounded, and were to make Florence Nightingale a household name.

By 1914, improved technology enabled photography to more precisely portray the full anguish of battle with detailed and often graphic illustrations of the cost of war. While the photography wasn’t spontaneous, relying on more static subjects, it was extensive. Harrowing images allowed the “Glorious Dead” to become faces, names, and individuals just like you and me, but with lives cruelly disturbed, unlike yours and mine.

The rapid progress of 35mm photography with lighter, more versatile cameras gave photographers freedom of movement which took them to front lines around the globe. In countless conflicts photojournalists, such as Robert Capa and Don McCullen, took these cameras to war and captured decisive moments, even final moments, in pictures that last longer than many of the lives they illustrated for a fraction of a second.

Governments quickly recognised the propaganda value and power of photography, and became acutely aware of the harm that uncontrolled photographs could cause. With every US solider who died on Kodachrome in the dense jungles of Vietnam, public opposition hardened to a war whose shadow still haunts American politics today.

The 21st century photojournalist may have cast off film, but political failures ensure they won’t abandon assignments any time soon. Public attitudes to taste and decency influence the editorial policy towards accepted news pictures. But the AP news agency recently syndicated a photograph that has sparked an intense moral debate since. Taken by Julie Jacobson, the photograph records a mortally wounded marine being tended to shortly after a grenade attack. In the parched, dry, monochromatic Afghan earth, the dying Cpl. Joshua Jackson blood loss flows, providing a stark and hard hitting focal point for the viewer. He was just 21.

Questioning the rights and wrongs of publishing the image only deflects attention from the more pertinent issue of whether or not Cpl. Joshua Jackson should have been in conflict in the first place.

Controlled and regulated photographs may produce “on message” images for the touts and cheerleaders of war. When the populace have the unedited truth of battle with its gamut of pain, suffering and death served to them as they sit at their breakfast tables, or relax in the peace and harmony of their living rooms, then they can decide on the merits of the cause with all the facts before them.

One hundred and fifty four years after Roger Fenton mobilised his photographic studio in the Crimea, business continues to be brisk for photojournalists who cover war.

“And now the Torch and Poppy Red, We wear in honor of our dead” is a tradition likely to endure and shape many more Novembers for generations to come.


Ganto 16 769 2 Ireland
4 Nov 2009 10:50PM
Sadly, there will always be work for war photographers Chas.
And, of course, the usual poppy debate is raging over here again... as it does every year.

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