Thursday, 30 October 2008

Mr.Evans' Poppies



As my poppy was pinned to my overcoat this week, I thought of this book. Arriving in W.H.Smith's in 1979 I think it was the fastest book purchase I ever made, sweeping it up and carrying it to the till without breaking step. The best £1.25 I ever spent, it introduced me to the poems of Wilfred Owen, but, especially for me, to the poetry of Edward Thomas, killed at the Battle of Arras in 1917. Thomas wrote not so much about the soldiers' experience, but more of the England (particularly the countryside) they had left behind. And it was this cover that did it. The photograph is by the late Tony Evans, who, over and above any other photographer, influenced the way I look at things. I met him briefly in the 70s, and it was his attention to detail and the obsessiveness of his fabulous images that had me scrabbling for my first Pentax. At first glance this is just a picture of poppies, but can you imagine how difficult they were to photograph in a studio? Anyone who has ever picked the flower knows that it dies virtually instantly in your hand, so, from what I remember, Tony dug a whole clump up, roots and all, and transported them back to his studio with his assistant watering them in the back of the van. And that black is the studio background. Penguin Books still use it, albeit not nearly as well printed, but it's still one of the best shots of poppies I know. More superb Evans' poppies, on location this time, can be seen in The Flowering of Britain and Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey.

5 comments:

A F-A said...

Nice post. In the Museum in Ypres (Ieper), they have a photo-copy of McCrae's original manuscript of "In Flanders Fields", the poem that began the concept of wearing the poppy. It is a sobering place to visit but not as spine-tinglingly thought-provoking as standing underneath Blomfield's Menin Gate Memorial as the traffic halts and they play The Last Post. It's all a long time ago now, but in many ways, the original conflicts are not yet over.

Peter Ashley said...

Working in Belgium we once attempted to catch the last post at the Menin Gate, and foolishly (my stupid fault) missed it because we all drove to Menin to find it. The Last Post Man had cycled off back into the town, but we did stand in awe underneath it, realising that every one of those crowded names was someone who had no known grave.

Philip Wilkinson said...

All these bits of Flanders and Picardy are full of ghosts and memories. When my son, then aged about 12, went to Flanders on a school trip around 8 years ago he returned with a bit of a rusty trenching tool. He found a shell, too, but they wouldn't let him touch it - there's still unexploded stuff there.

The Penguin anthology is good. I too bought it when it first came out, and it led me to Ivor Gurney, amongst others. The cover is a stunning job.

Vinogirl said...

My brother, Thud, and I picked poppies from a field near Dover whilst on a family trip. We promptly pressed them between tissues in the family AA, hardbacked, map book (a wonderful tome, even by today's GPS standards). The poppies went brown but the hairy stems stayed pretty green. Are they still intact Thud? Wonderful memories...thanks so much for the poppy post :)

Peter Ashley said...

What a lovely thought-provoking comment Vinogirl. Thankyou. I have an 1865 Common Prayer Book with a maidenhair fern pressed in it. And before you ask Ron, it's between the Collects for St.Philip and St. Barnabas the Apostle.