How does a photographer portray events which took place many decades before? Convey the feeling of being somewhere and sensing what happened there, through taking photographs? Particularly of a location that once witnessed indescribable horrors, such as part of the First World War landscape of France, where the battle of the Somme was fought.
The photographer will sense some of the reality of war, stand in a place that will forever be the very place where ordinary men once fought, struggled and died and know that a photograph will show that place, even somehow contain a part of it.
The photograph viewed, away from the place it originated, might lose some of that content. Although a print made from a negative will be physically, indexically, linked, that is not a visible connection. That can only be made in the viewer's mind, by an effort of will, to transpose prior knowledge onto the scene. Photography does allow this; we are used to looking at places where we have never been, that have background connotations. It is the extreme emotion that a warring landscape evokes that might be harder to sense in a photograph.
Aled Rhys Hughes and Peter Cattrell respond in different ways. Aled stands back from the scene, a space in front of him which he does not enter, but the potential to do so is there, with his large scale prints recreating the menace that the ground ahead must have projected at the time. He looks at the space in front of him or that between the 2 opposing lines of soldiers – challenging and frightening spaces that we will struggle to appreciate now, but might be felt still in Mametz wood.
Peter puts himself and us in the scene, he wants to walk on the same ground, retrace the steps of the soldiers, relatives he has got to know through his research and his walking with his camera. He wants to look at what they looked at.
In their different ways, Aled and Peter each strive to record the changes that take place in the landscape. Their work and the work of other photographers, pays tribute and helps to illustrate descriptions of the events a hundred years ago, ensuring that the visceral nature of that part of our history still remains.
The landscape remembers, for the generations that follow, either by gradually revealing what was once buried, expelling the past into the present or by still showing the topographical features that remain, even after a century has passed. Nature has reclaimed the wreckage, but its voice is still to be heard through the work of these photographers.
In these powerful black and white works, Echoes of the Great War, Peter re-visits the lands of the Somme on a personal journey to follow the footsteps of his great uncle, killed 1 July 1916. It is an exhibition of horror, reflection, beauty and hope, and the healing effects of time and nature.
“Ignoring KEEP OUT signs, I've spent whole days there on several visits since 1996 often using 6 roles of 6 x 7 film – producing around 60 negatives. I was there just over a month ago  – at 'La Sucrerie' (an area of sugar beet production since the end of C19 in the territory of Querrieu). There were sunflowers this year. I always go to Serre – it's like visiting great uncle Willie's grave. His body was missing in common with 20% of 'soldiers known unto God' missing in that first wave.”
Aled Rhys Hughes, Mametz
Aled has been visiting Mametz Wood, the site of the most significant battle in World War I for Welsh troops, for over five years. The striking contemporary photographs Hughes has taken over this period have been published in Mametz, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Mametz Wood.
What inspired Hughes to keep returning to this landscape?
‘Does a place retain some sort of memory of what’s happened there – over the years or over the centuries? It's very clear to me that in Mametz Wood... there is a memory there of what’s happened a hundred years ago.’ – Aled Rhys Hughes