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Somme 1916 - Ordinary Yet Extraordinary Landscapes

Jean-Pierre Gilson, a photographer from Compiegne, has spent over two years exploring the Somme, immersing himself in the surroundings and the 1916 battlefields. Through his camera lens, the sites of commemorations, former battlegrounds and military cemeteries are forever remembered.

Interview with Jean-Pierre Gilson

Why did you create this book?

I wanted to work on war during a time of peace. I touched more on the Somme than on the battle. This book is a pretext for exploring the Department. I claimed the landscapes while thinking of those who had died here. I tried to make these landscapes, which have become ordinary to the people who live here, extraordinary.

Please explain the work process

This book took two years to make. I travelled the battlefields, especially the areas mentioned by Blaise Cendrars in his books. I went in winter because during the war everything had been destroyed by the shelling. Winter resembles this period, when the landscapes had been devastated.

I am used to waking up early to go and watch the animals in the forest of Compiègne where I live. It was this that led to my passion for photography. I would leave Compiègne at 6am, so as to arrive at sunrise and make use of the excellent light conditions. There is also due at this time in the morning, which gives a glistening effect to the photos. I would keep an eye on the weather forecast for a couple of days and if it rained I hoped there would be mist the next day. But sometimes there was so much mist that I would have to wait until it faded.

Why did you choose to work in black and white?

Because it highlights the graphical aspect of the graves and the topography. It hints at the ghosts of the British soldiers that wander these lands, maybe in our imaginations.


The Book

Somme1916: some sixty photographs captioned by Florie Dournel, historian, with a foreword in French and in English by William Boyd, an internationally renown English author. Editions Loco. 96 pages. 32 Euros.

The Exhibition

The photography exhibition entitled Landscapes of the Great War of the Somme seen by Jean-Pierre Gilson, another series of photos on the same theme, can be viewed in the hall of the head office of the Hauts-de-France Region in Lille, from 8am to 6pm until 4th August.

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