Assignment 5 – Making it up

Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme.

I had several ideas for this assignment, mainly based around the exercises I had done earlier in the course.

My first idea related back to the alternative scenario that I imagined for Assignment Two: Using props.

This involved the idea of a handkerchief being given to a soldier as a memento of his lover as he went to war. The soldier dies on the battlefield and the handkerchief is returned to his lover after his death. The handkerchief is then found many years later by the soldier’s granddaughter.

This idea I had put on hold, due to lack of models and costumes, so initially I decided to re-shoot my photograph for Childhood Memory and make it look like a genuine old photograph. Having created the new image, I was about to submit it as assignment five, but I was not totally happy that it was enough.

However a chance came up for me to go back to my original idea. The North Norfolk Railway was holding an event called Trains and Trenches which gave me the opportunity to take some photographs for my original scenario. Apart from the steam trains there was a fake world war one trench, which was being used to explain the difficulties that the soldiers had during the first world war; their lack of toilets whilst on guard, the effort required to survive during trench warfare, and of course the ever present danger of trench foot from the damp and inability to change socks and boots.

This trench provided the core image for the sequence, and one of the re-enactors happily agreed to pose for me. Unfortunately the lighting was not ideal, consisting of sunlight filtered through the camouflage netting over the trench. It was slightly green in colour, and completely from above. I tried a fill-in flash, but it simply lost the atmosphere, so the image that I used needed quite a lot of adjustment in Photoshop. I also only had a couple of minutes to take the pictures as I had to fit between public visits to the trench, so there was little opportunity to experiment.

I asked the person who was posing for me to try a couple of different poses, and I particularly liked the one where he was sniffing the handkerchief as if it held his wife’s scent, but unfortunately when I came to edit it, I decided that it looked too much like he was sneezing.

For the shot of the woman saying goodbye to the train, I again asked a person who was in costume to pose for me. I wanted to have her waving to the train as it left the station, but the carriages at the rear of the train were obviously too modern for 1914, so instead I moved to the front of the train where the older carriages were, and where I could take an image without any people in modern dress. I had tried a couple of test shots prior to this, and realised that the handkerchief tended to disappear against the light sky. I really wanted it to show up against the darkness of the engine, but instead she held it so high that I had to get the contrast against the bridge on the exit of the station.

I also took a few photographs of a machine gun. Actually it is a Vickers gun, so could not actually have been used by the Germans, but it seemed to fit the part.

Below are my contact prints with the images I chose marked in red.

In editing these photographs I was uncertain whether to make them monochrome or colour. I put the images of the soldier onto the OCA students’ email forum and asked opinions. The result was an even match both ways, so I decided to keep them in colour but full colour seemed too modern so I reduced the saturation and tinted the result slightly towards sepia as that seemed to give them an impression of age.

The next problem was the handkerchief itself. The one I had used was a plain white piece of cloth, but I wanted it to be distinctive. I decided to create an image with a name and a couple of hearts to represent love, then added the result to all the images, in order to make it look like it had been embroidered.

The next stage was to create the letter and the notice of death. I found a copy on the internet of a genuine First World War death notice and recreated it. I also typed the letter from the lover to the soldier using a suitable script. I would have preferred to write it, but my writing is not good enough, and it would have been the same script as the death notice. Also the neat script would be easiest to read in the resulting photograph.

I thought photographing these would be easy, but having decided to go with a portrait format throughout, it was difficult to get a good image with everything in and without getting a shadow of the camera. In the end I used an off-camera flash reflected off a white door. It still needed some adjustment in post production, but it seemed to give the best result. Again I had to add the name and heart image to the handkerchief.

The final process was to distress and blood-stain the handkerchief for the last image in the set. For this I used a red ink, which was not too red to be believable. Also I needed a bullet hole in the centre of the blood stain. I decided to make this a genuine bullet hole, so I fired a .22 slug through the handkerchief from an air rifle. This created a hole, but because of the warp and weft of the cloth, it ended up rather thinner than expected. That is probably closer to reality than a perfectly round hole.

Historical note:

George Drury was a genuine soldier in the Royal Norfolk Regiment during the First World War. The 4th Norfolk battalion fought at Gallipoli, although they actually lost more men at the Battle of Gaza. It seemed more logical though to suggest that he died at Gallipoli on the 12th August 1915, the second day of fighting.

The real George Drury survived the war, and therefore it is a special thank you to John Drury his grandson who posed for my picture and told his grandfather’s story.


Here are the final set of images:

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