Continuing the process of researching and undertaking TAoP Assignment 1, Contrasts. Over the last few weeks I have slowly collected images for the contrasting pairs. My process has mostly been to map out ideas and then to identify locations that might work for those ideas.
When thinking about straight & curved I had thought of soldiers as a possibility for straight and with Remembrance Sunday falling last weekend I wanted to attend the service in Aldershot to further explore that idea.
Aldershot is a location that I see myself regularly returning to during this course, in reality it is already becoming more of a personal project. Aldershot is famous for a very small number of things. First and foremost it is the Home of The British Army which is one of life’s great ironies as successive governments have reduced the military presence in the town as they have consolidated the Army in other places such as Colchester. Most of the army has left home.
The opening lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din* immortalises the town:
You may talk o’ gin and beer, When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere, And you’re sent to penny fights an’ Aldershot it;
Penny fights was Victorian army slag for training battles and Aldershot was where they happened.
It’s second claim to fame is more recent. Joanna Lumley, the daughter of a Gurkha officer, was the public face of a campaign to secure the right of ex-Gurhkas, the Nepalese mercenries who have been part of the British Army since the days of the Raj, to retire in Britain along with their families if they had served in the regiment for more than 4 years. This led to a influx of Nepalese to the UK and many settled in Aldershot which was the nearest town to their old barracks at Church Crookham. By 2011, 1 in 10 residents of Aldershot was Nepalese putting a significant strain on the infrastructure and creating much tension in the community. The so called “Battle of Aldershot” had begun and is still a topic of hot debate today.
I am interested in Aldershot at many levels. The Nepalese story is compelling, the tensions it has created, the strain on social services and infrastructure against the work ethic of the immigrants and the boost they have given to the local economy by creating successful businesses that might help regenerate the town.
At another level I am drawn to the history of a place that started as a tented training camp, around a small village, and grew into a town with no other purpose than to house and support the Army – a modern day vicus** and, I suspect, potentially quite unique in that regard in modern Britain. But a town that has nearly lost its reason for existing as the army has withdrawn and is trying to reinvent itself.
The rapid growth of the army in the Aldershot area led to the construction of barracks, stables, churches and a wide array of military buildings whilst civic and commercial buildings sprang up in the town centre. Sadly many of these buildings were demolished and their sites redeveloped in the 60s, an era of wanton vandalism by town planners, and, of course, many of those developments are now abandoned or already pulled down. However, dotted around the military town there still architectural gems that have survived and that deserve preservation.
So, on Sunday, I travelled to Aldershot and specifically to the Garrison Church on the edge of the military town.
In planning I thought that there was potentially a pair of images to represent straight and curved. I knew that the war memorial was likely to have straight lines, that there would be lines of wreaths on the memorial and soldiers at attention. There was also the connotation of straight for an upright uncool citizen such as a soldier (or am I showing my age?).
For curved there would be wreaths of poppies and musical instruments.
I was highly conscious that this was a subject that must be treated with respect. Aldershot is a town that has lost thousands of serving soldiers from it’s regiments since it was founded in 1854. Since the Crimean war soldiers have left Aldershot to serve in every conflict Britain has been involved in.
Some research told me that Civil and military dignitaries would first join each other at a remembrance service in the Garrison Church followed by wreath laying and a march past.
Arriving early I had the opportunity to meet and photograph some of the veterans that were gathering for the parade including the ex-paratroper, or “para” as they are known locally, in fig. 1. Breaking from any tradition of candid street photography I asked his permission to photograph him and he rewarded me by striking the marvellous pose shown in fig 1 and fig. 4.
I am especially pleased with fig. 4 as it includes the memorial in the background. This could be my “straight” image but I feel that this would not be respectful.
After a short while military policemen or “red caps” arrived with an officer or NCO from a Scottish regiment and began to arrange the wreaths ready for the official laying. This provided interesting images that I had not expected.
My expectation had been to capture the wreaths in lines after they had been laid but the MPs placed them in the long straight lines in fig. 5 and fig 6. ready to be picked up and placed on the memorial. I initially though that one of these would be my “straight” image but eventually choose a slight variation on this theme.
And, apparently in charge, or was he just in the best uniform ? The gentleman from Scotland, a Regimental Sergeant Major perhaps.
It was an interesting learning experience, I do not recall photographing anything quite like this before. In some ways it is similar to photographing the winter solstice last year. I felt a bit lost, not quite sure where to be at any given time and not certain what was acceptable and what was intrusive or disrespectful.
It was helpful that a local press photographer was there and happy to explain the programme. However, watching where he went was the real education as he was always one step ahead of the action. I would imagine he has covered this event many times and knew exactly where to stand for each phase of the ceremony. If I go again next year I will get into better positions and that might lead to better images.
The summary of the lesson is that research about an event can only get you so far, being there is the only way to know what to do next time. Hopefully, if I go to enough events, my senses will become better tuned to spotting the right place to be.
*Kipling, Rudyard, (1990) The Complete Verse. Folkestone, Invicta
** A “vicus” was the civilian settlement that grew up outside the walls of a Roman Legionary camp or fort. Initially populated by camp followers many of these disorganised camps developed in towns and eclipsed the original military camp. See Salway, Peter, (1993) The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain. Oxford University Press. Page 404