Friday, April 10, 2015

The Costs of War: Photos and a conversation about how poppies help us to remember

Remembrance: Passing By the Wall of Flowers
(Sydney Australia April 2015)

Sometimes, when I am photographing someone in the street, they see me and move aside, thinking they are in my way. Now, not being one of those dishonest hunting type street photographers, I do not pretend I am photographing something else while sneakily "taking" a photo of someone; my work is about connection and openness, a celebration, not stealth and cheating.

Anyway, enough of that little rant. Yesterday I came across a woman putting up handmade poppies onto a temporary wall in a public square. Knowing that it was part of the Anzac Day commemorations, I decided I would make some photos of the scene. The image you see above is the first one I made. I then moved closer to get a more intimate point of view. And it is after making the second image (below) that the woman in the scene saw me and moved aside "out of the way".

Wall of Poppies Sacred Site (Sydney Australia April 2015)

As I always do when people move out of my way, I spoke to her. Here's our little conversation

Me: "Oh, Thank you, but you are actually a part of the picture."

Her: (smiling) "Really?"

Me: "Yes. I really like what you're doing here." I stepped closer. "It almost feels like you are creating a sacred site. Like a prayer. And putting the poppies on the wall is a sacred act."

Her: "Well, it does feel like a special thing to be doing."

I then started to have a closer look at some of the photos of soldiers being put up along with the poppies.

Her: "Do you know anyone who died in a war?"

Me: "Well my father fought in Vietnam and was really messed up."

Her: "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Was it PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress disorder)?

Me: "Yes. Among other things. He eventually died of those wounds" And, then I just blurted out:
         "It'd be really great if you could think of him when you stick one of the poppies onto the wall."

Her: "What was his name?

Me: "John"

Her: "Well, I'll think of him when I put up this one (holding up a poppy)

Me: "Thank you.

Then we said goodbye and that was that. I have always opposed war of any kind, and I always will. My rejection of war caused a lot of trouble within my family, especially after my father came back wounded from the war in Vietnam. But that was part of the reason: I saw the damage first hand. At the same time, I understand the need to commemorate and honor the victims of war, whether they be the people fighting or the countless other lives wasted in every war.

This poppy making and hanging project forms a part of the 100th anniversary commemorations of the landing at Gallipoli in Turkey on the 25th April 1915 of the armies of Australia, New Zealand and a number of other nations in an attempt to take control of the Dardanelles. In the six month battle that followed there were about half a million casualties.

Wars go on, and will forever it sometimes seems. But, we can all stop for a minute sometimes to reflect on the cost of war. And, you know, it might just make a difference.

Peace to you all.

There are numerous references on the net about the significance of poppies. Here's a short quote from one:
Worn on Remembrance Day (11 November) each year, and also on Anzac Day in Australia and other places, the red poppy was the first flower to bloom on the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium in the First World War. In soldiers' folklore, the vivid red of the poppy came from the blood of their comrades soaking the ground.
Do take the time to check out more information on this fascinating topic.  

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