About Mametz Wood
“And so to midnight...”
Welcome to Mametz Wood. This isn't the actual wood. Nor is it July 1916, the date of the First World War battle of that name that claimed thousands of lives in a futile fight for just one square mile of woodland in northern France.
This is a world where something has gone terribly wrong with our vision of the landscape, where fear stalks the mind tortured by the experience of war. And yet, there is something magical about this place, as woods are, could it be a salve to the pain and anguish, or is it simply more evidence of gathering madness?
Long after the war, in 1937 at the dawn of another world war, David Jones published his long modernist poem In Parenthesis. Where he recounts his experience of WW1 in the Royal Welch Fusiliers culminating in the battle of Mametz Wood. Unlike the industrialised slaughter we habitually associate with that particular war, much of the battle was hand to hand fighting with bayonets and much was after dark.
Jones’ story of remarkably ordinary men with remarkably ordinary lives (most soon to end, violently), is interweaved with mythic encounters from ancient British and Welsh folk tales and mythology. It's not a heroic work, as might be imagined, but the heroism of past stories acts as a counterpoint to the grim reality of modern warfare. It also lends a surreal grandeur to the wood, to the place where so many of the fallen men sacrificed their lives. The place becomes a kind of tribute to those that died, suffered or lost friends and family.
In my series of photographs for Mametz Wood I have taken David Jones’ poetry as a starting point to explore the effects of war on the mind. Using double exposures to both disturb reality and create a strange, surreal landscape that explores the experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or what was then known as shell shock. We can't be sure what is real and what is imagined, just as the victims of PTSD cannot help vividly recalling the terrible memories of what they experienced.
“And so to midnight and into the ebb-time when the spirit slips lightly from sick men and when it's like no-mans-land between yesterday and tomorrow and material things are loosely integrated and barely tacked together.”
David Jones, In Parenthesis.