I was first introduced to the work of Chloe Dewe Mathews last October while on the Brighton Photo Biennial Study visit where she held a talk. When she started showing the images, I felt that the first one was strangely beautiful. However after hearing the story/stories behind the series, I felt quite moved and fascinated by them.
When starting to do some research on the National Memorial Arboretum for my third assignment, I thought back to her work and realised what an excellent example they were of “spaces to places”.
When you immediately think of “spaces to places” you think of more positive things like making a house a home or programmes such as The Big Build or Challenge Anneka, where they were tasked to create something that benefitted the community from a run down piece of land.
However, Chloe looks at spaces that have become people’s resting place. Spaces where people were led to their deaths for reasons such as cowardice or desertion. In order to engage completely in the project she chose to research the soldier and the information surrounding their shootings so she could give the best interpretation of them now. This meant arriving at locations before sunrise so she could photograph each location at the time of each shooting. This gives an eery feel to the images as you can imagine exactly what it must have been like on that very day. She also positions herself where the firing squad was so in your mind’s eye, you can see the soldier stood right in front of you.
What also struck me was how different the spaces where, from fields in the middle of nowhere to what is now a primary school. However what remains of each space is that they are ordinary. There wasn’t anywhere special or particular they were taken, it was just where they were at the time. This gives you a sense of how little people thought of them or the spaces and how easily it could have been somewhere else.
Each image is titled after the officer who was shot there giving the date, time and reason. These titles add to the poignancy of the images and identify each space as a place of remembrance, humiliation and ultimately death.