In Flanders Fields

I had a dig right back to the first start of my archive following yesterday’s post on the nation’s D-Day celebrations.

When I was 14 I went on a school trip to Flanders to walk around the battlefields and trenches of the First World War. We heard the Last Post performed at the Menin Gate, walked around Tyne Cot Cemetery and the Thiepval Memorial in the rain, and learned about the horrors of trench warfare whilst squelching through mud at the Sanctuary Wood Museum.

It was one of the most influential experiences of my entire childhood and I still have all the photos I took. Showing them to my art teacher when I got back to school is what kicked off my interest in photography that would rule my life for the next ten or so years.

I vividly remember the huge gulf between the fun we had and the melancholy of walking around cemeteries and battlefields day after day. I will never forget how sharp the silences were on that trip. Hearing the Last Post, in particular, was incredibly moving.

The Menin Gate, whilst a transitory space by default, to be passed through from one open end to the other, was nonetheless still cavernous, sonically capturing the sound of the bugels that echoed and bounced of the named walls. There was something about that atmosphere of transitory capture that has stayed with me. I’ve never experienced that anywhere else.

At that time, we were mostly kids getting up to mischief. I remember awkward flirting in hotel rooms and play fights and misbehaving, all except when we were in a place of remembrance. I will never forget the how quickly those spaces were able to shut up this big group of boisterous Year 8 history students. It aged us, not least seeing the ages of those who died, so many just a few years older than we were then.

Yesterday I wrote:

The very experience of disarticulation is central to my interest in art and philosophy — not only in terms of the never-ending process of thinking and inventing new language, alongside reading the thought of others to acquire new concepts, but also those very real moments (limit-experiences) where language so frequently dissolves itself.

And I think I can safely say that somewhat gothic but nonetheless immanent fascination, whether in photography or philosophy, can be traced right back to that week in Belgium. That’s my Year Zero.

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