Monday, June 11, 2001

World War I memorials chronicled


Photo exhibit captures powerful images

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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This Pinoramic 120 camera enabled Jane Stevens to photograph World War I memorials with technology from that era.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Jane Stevens' “light bulb moment” flickered in her darkroom three years ago as she developed a photo of a memorial sculpture from the Dachau concentration camp.

        That haunting World War II image recalled a World War I memorial she had seen that same year in the Bordeaux region of France. On it, names of 1914, 1915 and 1916 casualties filled three sides.

        On the fourth were a few names from 1917 and 1918. “By then, all of the men in the village were dead,” she said.

        Those memories suggested a sabbatical project at the University of Cincinnati, where she is a professor of fine arts.

        “I've got to find out if the memorialization of this generation that was lost is alive. Maybe people would still be going to these places.”

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Eighty-three years after the war, people still mourn the dead.
(Jane Stevens photo)
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        Albeit a 20th-century conflict, World War I closed the 19th century and drowned Edwardian optimism in unprecedented bloodshed, Ms. Stevens said.

        Her photos reflect the response to the magnitude of that slaughter, when inept generals sent millions of conscripts to certain death by machine gun, poison gas and artillery barrages.

        Supported by $23,000 from UC, the English Speaking Union and Ohio Arts Council, Ms. Stevens made five exhausting two-week trips to 189 sites, taking pictures from dawn to dusk in England, France, Belgium and Germany.

        The best of those 3,000 photos can be found in “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered.” The display is free to the public today through June 30 at the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, where Ms. Stevens has been a full-time faculty member since 1984.

IF YOU GO
  • What: “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered,” by Jane Stevens, University of Cincinnati fine arts professor and photographer.
  • When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, today through June 30.
  • Where: 840 Gallery in UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at Clifton Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive, University Heights.
  • Admission: Free.
        Central to her freedom to travel was husband Gordon Barnhart, who worked from home and cared for their preschool twins. “I really owe Gordon big time,” she said. “He gave me the gift of time.”

        The project — which ended in October — began in June 1999 with an unwelcome adventure.

        Ms. Stevens carried a professional Noblex panoramic camera and, to re-create a sense of early 20th-century photography, a Pinoramic pinhole camera — without a lens — built for her.

        When she unpacked in Ypres, Belgium, the Noblex was broken and she relied on the pinhole camera that had been delivered three days earlier.

        Ms. Stevens learned to use the primitive viewfinder — three brass dots on the top of the cherry wood camera — and rubber bulb to squeeze open the simple shutter.

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This photo is titled Soldier's Picture, Berks Cemetery Extension, (British) Belgium 2001.
(Jane Stevens photo)
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        She estimated exposures, not knowing whether she was right until she developed her films at home. To her relief, all went well. After repairs, she used both cameras on the remaining trips.

        Ms. Stevens was amazed “how many people still go to these places and leave something behind.” Mementoes range from British-made crosses with traditional red poppies to comments in guest books.

        Most of her best photos are from the latter half of her project.

        As her understanding of the “enduring power of memory” matured, “the pictures themselves changed” from documentary photos to “evidence of the memorialization today.”

        One dawn, at a British cemetery in France, a couple arrived to visit the grave of the husband's great—uncle as a favor to the dead soldier's daughter.

        “It really gave me a newfound respect for the sacrifices war imposes on both civilians and soldiers and the incredibly long-term effects of war,” Ms. Stevens said.

        Another day, she met a couple visiting the grave of a soldier whose bones they found during a hike in an overgrown French battlefield. He was identified as a Briton and buried in the nearest British cemetery.

        Living people do not appear in her photos. She said photographing them “seemed to be an invasion of privacy.”

       



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