Picturing Aftermath - a visual response to the broken faces of the First World War

Shepherdson, K. (2015) Picturing Aftermath - a visual response to the broken faces of the First World War. In: 1914FACES2014 Les Gueules cassées: disfigurement and its legacies, 12-14 March 2015, Exeter University.

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This paper seeks to provide insight into contemporary creative practice-based research, exploring themes of human ruin, (re)membering and remembrance. In doing so, the research specifically examines and contextualises the photographic series Aftermath (Shepherdson, 2014) which was commissioned to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. Aftermath, in re-appropriating the found images of Ernst Friedrich’s 1924 Krieg dem Kriege, examines ‘ruination’ relating to the human form, a form all too vulnerable to mechanical warfare. In addition the paper will discuss how physical vulnerabilities might be translated forcefully, yet simultaneously tenderly, through images of the damaged human face.

The presentation will demonstrate Aftermath’s use of the esoteric photographic technique of emulsion lifting, whereby the photographic emulsion - similar to that of a fine layer of skin - is lifted away, re-echoing the fragility of the face and the utter devastation at its loss. As Sally Minogue comments “The damaged face was one of the most difficult disfigurements for a surviving combatant to bear because of the public response of disgust and rejection, as well as the sufferer’s own deep loss of confidence and sense of identity. In facing Shepherdson’s photographs we take on a responsibility to face up to what modern warfare means” (2014:23).

A characteristic of emulsion lifts are tears and creases which subsequently require slow, gentle teasing and stroking out by hand using soft natural bristle brushes. This act of stroking and easing the face back into shape is of course in sharp distinction to the moment of facial destruction. The specificity of this process also limits scale and thus distills each work into a unique artifact with consequent ‘flaws’ accepted and welcomed. In considering photography’s potential to connote human fragility and ruin, the paper will draw upon the salient writings of Derrida, Sontag and Berger.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D0204 Modern history, 1453- > D0501 World War I (1914-1918)
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts > N7560 Special subjects of art
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
T Technology > TR Photography
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Media Art and Design
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Dr Karen Shepherdson
Date Deposited: 25 Mar 2015 14:59
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2015 14:59
URI: https://create.canterbury.ac.uk/id/eprint/13247

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00