The Great War’s Other Dead
the morning, things are more raw. I wasn’t thinking [about] what
In a field in Picardy, she shows a sweeping vista, but in a prison
happened there so much until that time of that morning when it
became more real,” she says. “It was very melancholy.”
Mathews felt her images should be straightforward. “I don’t want
to be preachy about it,” she says, noting that questions surrounding
each soldier’s death, and questions of discipline and military justice,
make the subject complex. “In the end, it’s about putting something
forward for other people to look at and consider.”
At the same time, Mathews thought a repetitive, typological series
would discourage reflection. “You see the first three images and you
think: Right, I get it.” To combat this, she varied her approach in each
location. “I wanted to reflect that visceral feeling, when you stand on
some twigs and wet grass in the morning and you’re thinking about
that person who did the same,” she says.
cell in Flanders, she shot a tight close-up of a brick wall. Sometimes,
examples were made of deserters, and they were shot in open fields
as troops were marched by. “They were very theatrical,” she notes.
Other executions were carried out in secluded sites that felt “more
intimate,” Mathews says.
Bonaventura suggested bringing a book proposal to Ivorypress,
Mathews hopes that viewers of the book and exhibitions will consider
the Madrid-based art publisher. Ivorypress’s founder, Elena Ochoa
Foster, immediately agreed to publish the work. Mathews wanted a
“simple, not fussy” layout that would call attention to the captions,
which list the location, the names of the executed, and the times
and dates they were executed. The spreads in Shot at Dawn reverse
the usual order in a photo book: Photos are on the left, text is on the
right where the reader’s eye goes first. Says Mathews, “That was a
way of rebalancing the usual relationship of text and image.”
Essays by historians Hew Strachan and Helen McCartney provide
valuable context about military discipline and battlefield trauma.
the people who once stood in the landscapes she photographed. She
says, “There’s a glaring absence, and it should be glaring,” she says.
“Private Joseph Byers, Private Andrew Evans, Time unknown, 2/6/1915, Private George E. Collins, 07: 30 / 2/15/1915, Six Farm, Loker, West-Flanders.”