wooden remembrance cross at the Somme memorial at Thiepval
Two days ago I had the opportunity to visit the Somme region in Northern France whilst on an assignment. I have driven past the area countless times on car shoots, but this time I made a particular point of stopping and visiting some of the World War One cemeteries.
The most moving was at Thiepval, which is the site of the largest British war memorial in the world. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and opened in 1932 by the Prince of Wales, you can see inscribed the names of the 73,357 British and South African men who fell at the Somme and have no known grave.
It had a real sense of calm, and judging by the reactions of the people visiting, it still has great significance. Whilst walking around, reading the names, I found a wooden cross with a dedication written by a child. It said, “In remembrance of E. Singleton, the bravest man I know.” This really touched me. Even after nearly one hundred years, new generations are still identifying with the waste of life that has become indelibly linked to the Battle of the Somme.
After several Google searches I couldn’t find an obvious identification for E. Singleton, but would be intrigued to find out more.
the Somme memorial at Thiepval
detail of the Somme memorial at Thiepval
Paul Debois using large diffusers to soften midday sun
Whenever I speak to my mother on the phone, the conversation always drifts towards the perils of the weather, and the effects it has on photography. I think she still worries about me wearing a hat or that I remembered to take a flask of hot coffee with me! Unless it is sunny.
Then the comment is, “It must have been a great day for photography.” But no!
Whether I’m shooting gardens, flowers or cars, fierce, bright sun and a cloudless blue sky is nearly always a nightmare. Finding natural shade at the top of a mountain pass to park a sports car covered in chrome is nearly impossible. And wide landscapes with trees casting dark shadows over beautifully designed borders makes you look to the sky in desperation for help. Not for divine intervention, but for cloud. Even a little one. A few seconds would do!
Any photographer working outside will spend hours waiting for the light to change – it’s always too bright or too cloudy, much to the annoyance of whoever you are working with. On a recent shoot for Gardeners’ World, a photograph was taken of me working under a tent created with white cloth suspended on light stands – all to capture an area about a metre square. Midday sun is very difficult to work in – especially for a journalist when lunch is imminent!
I know I’m lucky to be able to work outside of an office environment. But that perfect gin and tonic weather, when all you want to do is sit in a deck chair and listen to Test Match Special on the radio, is often not much use to a snapper. Unless the offer is a G&T!