What Lies Beneath – the beginning of a journey with a large format camera.

The Large Format camera slows you down, it makes you look and see in unique way. The image is upside down and time spent under a dark cloth, alone takes you to a place of solitude, in a sanctuary. The world is dislocated, separated. there is time to contemplate, to remember, to pray.

Caterpillar Crater at Zillebeke – Hill 60.  How the very soul of the earth must have groaned in agony as one after one mines laid silently and stealthily exploded one after the other. Earth rained down and madness continued.
We arrived at Hill 60 to find a landscape partly healed by time. Trees grew out of craters and the pockmarked landscape. Roots, feeling down into the earth where men stared at each other across a front line just 17 metres apart.


In 1917 it was like the surface of the moon.  On the road out of Ypres and to the North the Salient reached out into the German lines and here, in this small space died British, German and French.    Turning my back on the war graves and the reconstructed trenches I found myself in an industrial estate, pristine in the Spring sunshine. It was here the project took shape, it was here that I first asked the question “what lies beneath” .
How easy we forget, as cars thunder past – but it was only 100 years ago, in living memory for a handful.











The Canadian visitors overran Essex Cemetery to the North of Ypres. An invasion 100 years on. For it was here that Major John McCrae a Canadian Officer and Doctor wrote “In Flanders Fields” arguably the most famous and poignant of all WW1 poems.  Across the Kanal Leper -Ijzer near where bridge No4 once stood – more modern pristine factory buildings. Incongruous in the sunlight ….but what lies beneath?


Here at the site of Bard Cottage on the Ypres Salient lie 1,643 dead humans. 1,584 were British, 15 Canadians, 2 South Africans, 3 West Indians, 4 Germans and 35 unidentified.

“A Salient is a piece of ground that protrudes into the enemy lines offering peculiar advantages and dangers to the defenders. The Hun can shoot right across it. A Salient is an awkward place”.

The Ypres Times Vol6. No1 January 1932

On Pilkem Ridge, high ground by all accounts! stood Mousetrap farm. As it was slightly elevated it offered a view of the front during the 2nd Battle of Ypres. Occupied by the Germans in May 1915


The Large Format Camera is unique in its ability to capture detail in a plane of focus from next to the camera to infinity. A slight forward tilt of the lens board, some readjustment of focus and the upside down view of the battlefield appears in stark relief.

Near Zillebeke lie 5,144 dead humans. The location is rather lovely – Bedford House cemetery. Zillebeke was directly behind the Western Front, making it a useful site for divisional headquarters and field ambulance  stations. Here stood Chateau Rosendal – a grand spot to spend the night.


 The large format camera can capture detail from front to back or you can concentrate on a single area. Looking away from the 5,000 graves at the fields beyond a lone post with some barbed wire caught my attention. The post and the wire stopped the sheep from roaming.

On Pilkem Ridge we come across a ploughed field with stubble that resemble trees ravaged by explosions and fire


And so to Tyne Cot the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the World, for any war. Here on the killing grounds of Passchendaele lie 11,965 humans. 8,369 are unidentified.

With the Toyo 45A camera I stepped out of the back of this hellish place and gazed upon the setting sun across the fields of Passchendaele and made two last exposures.

To be continued……..

1 Comment

  1. Andrew, very well done. So much information it’s hard to wrap my head around it all. How that many souls were lost in most horrible deaths & for what exactly? A very worth while project & well researched. Thank you for sharing your work.

    Liked by 1 person

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