These are hand-coloured pictures on Ilford Multigrade Art 300 ,a unique silver halide paper in which the emulsion is coated directly onto a 300 gsm pure rag base. As soon as Frances tried it, Art 300 became her favourite for fine art printing. Then she tried it for hand colouring. It's perfect. Nowadays she mostly uses Faber-Castell watercolour pencils , but for this series she also used Marshall's Oils and various dyes, including Fotospeed. The texture and look are unique, and the only drawback is that it's a swine to reproduce from, whether you scan or use a copying set-up. You get the same sort of "flashback" that you get from oil paintings, so nothing you ever see on line or in print can do justice to it.
The series itself obviously owes a certain amount to Pete Seeger's
Have All The Flowers Gone
. Although this was written in 1955 it
is much better known with the additional verses written by Joe
Hickerson in 1960 and sung by
Paul and Mary
. The flowers, the young girls, the husbands, the
soldiers, the graveyards, the flowers...
Photographically, the series developed backwards, after we moved to an area where sunflowers are grown. Flowers as a symbol of mortality are nothing unusual, but the shattered flower that forms the last picture in the series was the one that prompted the series. It is reminiscent of a shattered human body. The photographer Gerda Taro comes to mind: during the Spanish Civil War she was hitching a ride on the running board of a car carrying wounded soldiers when it was hit by a tank.
Once the concept was there, The Universal Soldier obviously came to mind. Although it was written ( and sung ) by Buffy Sainte-Marie , the best-known version is associated with Donovan Leitch . Frances deliberately juxtaposed (for example) a young man in Hitler Jugend uniform with a fighter from the Mexican Civil War, and Roman soldiers with a Russian tank. We call the picture of the young man "Tomorrow Belongs to Me ", from the song in the film Cabaret. The appeal of the uniform and the songs should not be underestimated. A friend who was a Communist Party member in England in the 1930s said, "But if I'd lived in Germany, I'd probably have been a Nazi. At that age, you'll believe anything."
There are thirteen pictures in the gallery: four of sunflowers, seven of re-enactors or re-enactment camps, one of a bride, and one of a serving Russian soldier. The bride is laying her wedding bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin walls in Moscow, and the Russian soldier with the tank is commemorating the failed 1991 putsch (sometimes known as the Second Russian Revolution) when the communists attempted to re-establish the old Soviet Union. No-one had told us that there was going to be a commemoration so it was a bit of a surprise to see tanks outside the White House.
Most of the pictures of the re-enactors came from the 1990s. Re-enactors often make for good pictures, and the theme is obvious: we knew where to look. One of the sunflower pictures, of the deepening shadows, was shot specially with a deep red filter which darkened the sky and lightened the sunflowers.The rest were shot simply because Frances likes sunflowers. All are 35mm shots, taken with Leicas, Voigtländers and Nikons. Films were similarly mixed: mostly Ilford HP5 Plus and one SFX 200, though one or two may have been on Kodak Tri-X and Foma 200 (before they started calling it Creative). The series was printed and coloured in 2014, almost two decades after most of the pictures (except the sunflowers) were taken. This is one of the reasons we like film so much: old negatives are compatible with the most modern papers, with no worries about file formats and electronic foibles.
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Words copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016, pictures copyright (c) Frances Schultz 2016