“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 the First World War 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 this 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.

“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.”

“Stealthily, imperceptibly, stript back thinning
night wraps
unshrouding, unsheafing
and insubstantial barriers dissolve.”

“as to this hour
when unicorns break cover
and come down
and foxes flee, whose warrens know the shock,
and birds complain in flight – for their nests fall like stars
and all their airy world gone crazed
and the whole woodland rocks where these break their horns.”

“In the regions of air above the trajectory zone,
the birds chattering heard for all the drum-fire
counter the malice of the engines.”

“You can’t see anything but sheen on drifting particles
and you move forward
in your private bright cloud like
one assumed who is borne up by an exterior volition.”

“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.”

“But for the most part they come as sleep-walkers
whose bodies go unbidden of the mind, without
malevolence, seeking only rest.”

“His eyes set on the hollow night beyond.”

“The sky flickered uncertainly, as when summer
lightenings dance.”

“You drop apprehensively – the sun gone out,
strange airs smite your body
and muck rains straight from heaven.”

“Suffer with us this metamorphosis.”

“and in the core and navel of the wood there
seemed a vacuum, if you stayed quite still,
as though you’d come on ancient stillnesses
in his most interior place.”

“When the quiet came again with the sudden
cessation – in the tensioned silence afterwards
you couldn’t find a rag of them.”

“Like an home-reared animal in a quiet nook,
before his day came…
before entering into the prison of earth.”

“There between the thinning uprights
at the margin
straggle tangled oak and flayed sheeney beech-bole,
and fragile
birch whose silver queenery is draggled and
ungraced
and June shoots lopt
amd fresh stalks bled.”

“Dead-calm for this Sargasso dank, and for the
creeping things.
You can hear the silence of it.”

“Across the evening, homing birds, birds of the air
with nests cawed on high above them waiting.”

“But sweet sister death has gone debauched today
and stalks on this high ground with strumpet
confidence, makes no coy veiling of her appetite
but leers from you to me with all her parts
discovered.”

“and twice-dye with crimson moistening
for draggled bloodwort and the madder sorrel.”

“So many without memento
beneath the tumuli on the high hills
and under the harvest places.”

The Mametz Wood series is also viewable as a gallery without the accompanying quotes …

ABOUT ROB HUDSON

Rob is a conceptual landscape photographer, living and working in Cardiff, Wales. He prefers the unconsciousness of the familiar and local. He is also one of the four founding members of the Inside the Outside collective.

Rob is currently exhibiting his series ‘North Towards the Orison’ as part of Inside the Outside: Exploring Contemporary Landscape Photography at the MMX Gallery in London. 22nd April – 3rd June 2017

Website: robhudsonlandscape.net
Twitter: @robhudsonphoto
Instagram: @robhudson_

CREDITS

“In Parenthesis” by David Jones

Unless where stated, all words and images in this article are © Rob Hudson

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