Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth / Brighton Photo Biennal
Saturday October 4th - November 23rd

There are at least 16 war memorials in Portsmouth and Southsea, everyday reminders of the area’s intrinsic military heritage as well as monuments to the human cost of war. Incredible lists of thousands of names engraved in stone and metal for the sake of rememberance. At the Aspex Gallery, a new war memorial has been constructed by the artist Julian Germain, featuring a display of photographs and photo albums made by British soldiers and sailors over the last 100 years. The images have been lent to the gallery by numerous enlisted men as well as by ex-servicemen and women, their relatives, the Royal Navy Museum, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum and the Royal Marines Museum. A few items have been purchased on the ebay auction website.

It's a truism of life that photography is part of all our lives and photographic images are all around us in the form of packaging, adverts, newspapers, magazines, catalogues, surveillance, research and so on. Nowadays we are even routinely photographed in the womb. Yet it is arguable that the most important photographs are those taken by amateurs, the ones we take ourselves to record significant moments in our lives. Whether this has been done casually, or carefully, we have created a vast archive of images; sealed flashbacks, to help us remember.

‘War Memorial’ is an exhibition which acknowledges this fundamental bond between photographs and memories, a direct visual link to the experiences service men and women chose to record. From Galipoli to Bolshevik Russia during WW1; from Italy to Burma in WW2; from Korea, Kenya, Suez and Northern Ireland to the Falklands, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a timeline of tension and travel, conflict and comradeship, bravery, boredom and brutality. Through these glimpses of momentous international events, we see photography's own journey: Box Brownies, Rolleicords, Instamatics, SLR’s, Polaroids, 110, compact, and nowadays of course, digital cameras. The evolving technology of photography could serve as a metaphor for the evolution of war. The weapons change and become more sophisticated, yet the people wielding them remain essentially the same.

The pictures were generally made in rough conditions in far flung corners of the world, but the albums (including the slideshows on PC’s) were almost always put together later, in the safety and comfort of home, occasionally revealing aspects of domestic life too. These pictures, like the men and women who took them, are survivors. The common language of snapshot photographs in albums creates a sense of familiarity, recognition and even authenticity that invites us to respond to these people’s lives and experiences in a way that is impossible if we look at ‘professional’ images made for publication in the media. 'War Memorial' is an exhibition about the fundamental humanity of the men and women we send to war. A reminder that no matter how extreme our experiences, we never lose that vital urge to record and remember. And in war-time, is there anything more extraordinary than the survival of the ordinary?

Wednesday 5 November, 2-4pm

Informal gallery discussion with Sgt. Steve Armon

Sgt. Steve Armon will be available in the gallery to discuss his photographs, made on a recent 6 month posting in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. FREE, no booking required, just drop into the gallery.

Wednesday 5 November, 6.30pm
Discussion about War Memorial and BPB200

With speakers Julian Germain and Sgt. Steve Armon.

FREE of charge, but places are limited so must be booked in advance