12 x 12 Challenge 02

Tree with Polish graves, Newark Cemetery

I’ve been working on finalising the images for April/May’s 12 x 12 Challenge, which goes like this:

Find a place where you live where history made its mark. Allow yourself to breathe, feel, contemplate and react with a photograph – Laura El-Tantawy

Newark is full of history, being an important player in the English Civil War, so there were lots of possibilities.  The castle was an obvious one to choose, and I toyed for a while on doing a set on an old and gorgeous building that used to be a Temperance house and now holds a Zizzi restaurant.  When it came down to it, however, these felt more like decisions made with my head than my heart.  I needed somewhere that held some emotion for me, with the hope that that might come across in my photos.

I began to think about places that affected me emotionally, and recently that’s been the WW2 Polish war graves in the cemetery at the end of my road.  There’s a serene beauty in the ranks of white stones marking these Polish boys’ graves – for they were boys, for the most part – which is at odds with lives cut short by hate and brutality.  I like to think there’s some peace for them here.

The images in this post are the final five.  I decided to convert them to black and white, because I felt it suited the subject matter and is also in keeping with the era.  Most of them have been heavily post-processed, because without that they didn’t fully evoke the feeling that I wanted to get across.  For instance, in the image above I wanted the white stones and white tree to really stand out without the rest of the cemetery behind them being too distracting, and I also wanted the other elements to look dark and foreboding – a symbol for the threat that hung over Europe during that time.  It seemed to me, too, that the white stones look a little like soldiers in rank formation and I wanted to bring that out.  Getting the effect I was aiming for involved a lot of layers and blending, but I’m happy with the result.

As soon as I saw the dead daffodil lying on the memorial in the next image, I had to include it.  It is a little bit obvious in its symbolism, but I liked the way that the daffodil could be seen to represent those boys and men who died in the spring of their lives, when everything should have been opening up for them.

Daffodil on grave, Polish war graves, Newark

The next image is, I think, the least strong of the five, but it helps set the scene.  What drew me to it was the lantern with the Polish insignia and the way the light glinted off the words engraved in the stone.  I also liked the faint reflection of the trees overhead in the marble of the stone, which gives an indication of the surrounding environment.

Lantern, Polish war graves, Newark Cemetery

One thing I wanted to do was to get a personal element into at least one image – something to show that these were real people who lived, and loved, and were loved.  Leaning against one of the graves was a photograph of the 24-year-old Pole whose remains lay there so I took a shot of that, plus the grave, and then overlaid one on the other.  This has been so hard to get right and I still don’t feel it fits well style-wise with the rest of the images.  I did want a certain harshness in the images, to reflect the harshness of war, but this one is a little over the top.  I may play with it a bit more before I submit it to see if I can improve on this version.

Polish war grave, Newark Cemetery

In the final image I wanted to go full circle and show a wider view again.  The trees in the background of this one look ominous against the light coloured cross, again symbolising the darkness of the time, and perhaps – in the way they’re lined up in two rows – ranks of advancing soldiers.

War memorial, Newark Cemetery

I’ve really enjoyed working on the two 12 x 12 assignments I’ve completed so far.  It’s given me a challenge, something to think about, and a structure to work within.  These are all things I had when I was studying photography with OCA but this comes without the additional irritations and frustrations that went with that.  I’m not at all sorry to have abandoned academic photography but there are some aspects of it that I do miss, such as the assignments and working to a structure.

One thing it’s done for me is to leave me with the desire to work in series.  I think photographs work best in groups that tell a story – each image should be strong in its own right, but the whole together should be greater than the sum of its parts.  Not many photo challenges allow you to submit a group of photos in response, so this challenge is a bit special.  I’m aiming to do the full year’s worth of challenges, although I’m aware how bad I am at sticking to these things!