Eric Poitevin: A Hundred Men

On our way north from Italy, we called into LAM - the Museum of Modern Art at Lille in France. This  particular exhibition, being staged for the centenary of  World War I, was one of the highlights of the trip for me, and a welcome rest after spending 12 hours in the car driving yesterday and another 4 hours this morning.

In 1983, photographer Eric Poitevin, who studied at the School of Fine Art in Metz, had the idea of photographing a hundred veterans of the 1914-18 war.  He was influenced by Roland Barthes' work on photography - Image Music Text - looking at photography ‘not as art, but as evidence of what was’.

The Hundred Men, without names or any other identification, are lined up on the walls of one big room.

There are farmers and butchers, priests and teachers, members of the bourgeoisie, all side by side, in a moving record of a conflict that also killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of their compatriots and millions of others.
The photographer, the photographed and the exhibition!

Outside, the landscape is scattered with cemeteries where foreigners who came to fight and die were laid under identical white stones. Under the soil of Picardy is a root crop of bone and shrapnel.  The place-names slide past the autoroute like movie subtitles - the roses of Picardie, Vimy Ridge, the marshes of the Somme. . .

My own grandfather lost his health, his sanity, and almost his life in this landscape.  Like most of those who fought, like these men staring benignly at the camera, he came back changed both mentally and physically.
My grandfather in his private's uniform in 1914. He was a sergeant when invalided out.

The LAM museum houses one of the best collections of modern art in Europe.  Barry Flanagan’s ‘Boxing Hares’ stand in a corridor, perfectly framed by the window.

I particularly liked Daniel Buren’s stained glass shed, which you can walk around, like being inside an illuminated Rubic cube. It had a wonderful, calm feeling.

And there’s an extensive sculpture park outside where you can walk and picnic in acres of countryside.  This is Picasso’s Angel with Outstretched Arms.

The Channel Tunnel tomorrow and then northwards through England and East Anglia!


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