Think of Me, Remember Me

Thousands of studio portraits exist of soldiers, sailors, airmen and nurses in uniform, taken before they left for war or while home on leave. Sometimes soldiers visited a studio in Belgium or France before going up to the front line.   The formality of the sitter's uniform and stiff pose, looking fixedly at the camera, and lack of information about the subject can make these photographs hard to relate to. The pose was dictated by the long exposure time required. If the sitter moved, the image would be blurred. Unlike contemporary photography, it was hard to capture a sense of an individual's character. The image gives little away beyond the insignia on the uniform, the studio backdrop and occasionally a short message. Sometimes a poignant note of when and where the sitter died is written across the photograph. Yet each of these images holds within it, a story. Who was this man? Where did he live? What did he do before the War? Did he survive and if so what happened when he came back home? Was this very photograph handled and looked at by his mother, his wife, his sweetheart and what did it mean to them whilst he was away? If he was killed, badly injured or suffering from unrecoverable shell shock what did it mean to look at this photograph in the following years? Who preserved this man's image and why? Photographs from the Museum's collection, shown here on a short film, are of those men whose names remain. In some cases, it has been possible to research census and military records to learn a little more about each life, offering a connection with their photograph. Can we see them as men who once worked, lived, and loved in our community, who walked the streets and lanes that we walk today?
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