THE ZERO HOUR PANORAMAS
July 1 - 31, 2016
32 Bruton Place
Featured Image: PANORAMA NO.11: LA BOISSELLE (detail) Pigmented ink print on mould made, 100% cotton Somerset paper. Annotated by hand in black Indian ink. Sizes: 72” x 12” live image (50 editions) 48” x 8” live image (50 editions)
The first day of the battle of the Somme (1 July 1916) was the costliest in British military history. To mark its centenary, writer and photographer, Jolyon Fenwick has created a series of photographic panoramas taken at the exact position (and time of year and day) from which 14 battalions attacked in the first wave at 7.30am BST (ZERO HOUR) that fateful morning.
The tragic ironies of the Somme (its opening day most of all) continue to cast their spell. Visiting the scene of the battle today, one discovers the ironies persist: where once witnessed the start of the greatest battle in history and the greatest human suffering our country has ever known, one now finds an empty landscape of mature deciduous woodland and quiet rolling farmland. Only the cemeteries and memorials betray the history of these unassuming ‘foreign fields’. The origin of the ZERO HOUR PANORAMAS lay with my discovery some years ago of the battlefield panoramas created for strategic purposes by the military of the time. Annotated by hand with the landmarks of the German positions (invariably christened by the British soldiers themselves), they were used to give officers a panoramic field of view of the battlefield from the safety of their dugouts. The finished panorama included the location of the photographer, the date, the total field of view in degrees, the direction the camera was facing and a scale of degrees to inches. They were also, like almost all practical documents of the time, very handsome.
My discovery gave me the idea of borrowing their approach as a device to juxtapose the benevolent-looking now with the doom-laden then. Where now are rich fields of corn we can see were once German trenches. Where now stretch the wire fences of a French smallholder’s enclosure once stretched the barbed wire of the German front line. Where now are grazing cows were once German machine gun positions – the same machine guns responsible for so many of the crosses and graves that appear in the photographs. Overlaying the authentic official military stamps and annotations (exactly – and as accurately - as they might have been set out by the Royal Engineers of the eve of the battle) also allowed the explanation of the picture to be part of the picture. If you look at each picture closely enough, it reveals (as well as authentic, technical information) when it was taken, where it was taken from and therefore why it was taken.
For further information on the exhibition, please contact Ing Chua-Lee Ing@ktwlondon.com