cattrell somme great war

12 April 2017 - 26 May 2017

Echoes of the Great War
The Somme Revisited

Photographs by PETER CATTRELL


It is a pleasure to introduce to Ludlow the photography of Peter Cattrell and an exhibition of his work, Echoes of the Great War, in which Peter re-visits
the lands of the Somme on a personal journey to follow the footsteps of his great uncle, killed 1 July 1916. It is an exhibition of horror, reflection, beauty
and hope, and the healing effects of time and nature. 

Peter Cattrell was born in Glasgow in 1959 and now lives and works in London. He studied at St Andrews University and studied photography at the London
College of Printing from 1979-82. He has taught part-time at Central St Martins since 1986 and also teaches at Camberwell College of Arts and the London College of Communication. 

Peter's creative work explores his interest in humanity’s impact on our surrounding landscape, mostly the landscape of Britain and Europe. He is drawn to locations through historical research and personal association. He uses film and fine printing techniques in a wet darkroom. For many years Peter worked with Fay Godwin (1931-2005) to print her black and white landscapes of the British countryside. 

Peter has had solo exhibitions in Britain, France and the United States, and his work has been in numerous group exhibitions such as the Tate Gallery Liverpool; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Saatchi Gallery, London; Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Holland; Houston Photofest, USA; Forbes Gallery, New York, USA; Spain and Portugal.

Echoes of the Great War

Fought between July and November 1916, the Battle of the Somme was the deadliest military exchange of the First World War. British casualties were 57,000 in the first 24 hours.
Peter Cattrell's great uncle, William Wyatt Bagshawe (second from right) served with the Sheffield City Pals Battalion, which was all but destroyed on that first day, 1 July 1916.

Peter's interest in the Somme was sparked by a photograph of his great uncle. It led Peter on a personal voyage to the French and Belgian battlefields to retrace the footsteps of his great uncle and to explore his life as a soldier. Peter explains: “My photographs are of the landscape as it is now, in different seasons, taken over several years, showing traces of the battlefields. I am drawn to the frontline in personal homage, but also in awe of the significance these areas hold to so many people. Every yard has strategic importance, and each contour has a meaning.”

The haunting black and white photographs show the scarred landscapes of the area around the village of Serre in Northern France where the Sheffield Pals Battalion was all but destroyed. Also on display is Peter's most recent work, including a series of photographs of shrapnel and fragments found on the battlefields, as well as images of Redmires and the Hallam moors near Sheffield where the Battalion trained before being sent to the trenches.

Peter brings out the patterns and textures of the landscape where terrible battles were once fought. His works "engage with the calamities of the Great War and present nature as a force of restoration." Some of the photographs show areas where specific atrocities happened, with these events being described in the accompanying text. These captions add an extra and often shocking dimension to images that seem, at first, to be straightforward photographs of nature and landscape.

The historical content is made all the more powerful by the lack of human presence in any of the photographs, a haunting emptiness. ‘Lines of Stubble near Sunken Lane, Beaumont Hamel’ becomes all the more poignant on reading of the many soldiers killed there, now replaced by straight lines of crop stubble, many broken and bent.

Time and nature may have softened the damage caused by the war but the physical damage can still be seen in the clear winter light. As the grass grew over the battlefields, and crops were planted once again, nature incorporated the damage into the landscape. 

Peter’s photographs remind us that the Great War is not so far away. It may have faded from memory but its effects can still be seen. He shows how the natural environment has overcome the physical damage caused by the war, as some traces of war are covered and others are integrated into the land. In spite of the unimaginable events that occurred in the scenes photographed by Peter, it is the healing effects of time and the patterns of nature that remain in the mind on leaving this exhibition.

A visitor to this exhibition cannot fail to be moved by these beautiful images. 

A review of the exhibition by Alex Woodall ended with the words of a poem by Sergeant John William Streets:

"When war shall cease this lonely, unknown spot
Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,
And flowers will bloom in this barren plot."

Hope cannot be extinguished.

The work has been exhibited in the Gallery of Photography, Dublin; Ulster Museum, Belfast; Imperial War Museum, London; Durham Light Infantry Museum, Durham; Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; Robert Fleming Gallery, London; and Weston Park Museum, Sheffield. We are delighted to welcome the exhibition to Ludlow.