On Flanders Fields ...

Murray arrived Tuesday and we've been incredibly busy in the days since then.  Then yesterday, the Belgian bloke joined us and we headed for Flanders Fields.

First stop was in Mesen (Messines, in French) where we caught up with the remarkable Steven Reynaert, a treasured friend and highly respected historian, he was able to give Murray a sense of the history of WW1 in and around the area.

We were photographed with the NZ Soldier before leaving Mesen, as per the first image.  Steven and Murray are there in the third image. 

The middle photograph captures another favourite friend of mine out there in the Westhoek.  Freddy Declerck is a truly special man and we were so fortunate in catching up with him in The Memorial Museum Passchendaele.

We had an early dinner in our favourite restaurant in Ieper - het Klein Stadhuis, as photographed below before rolling out the door and into the light drizzle, heading for the Menin Gate and the Last Post Ceremony.  More to follow on that ...

It was a huge day.   It was a good day.


Today is all about processing the 400+ photographs I took out on Flanders Fields, in the village of Mesen, on the occasion of ANZAC Day

My grandfather was at Gallipoli, Turkey ... and later he was out on the Somme, in France, with his horse.  Whether he made it to Flanders Fields with the rest of the Otago Mounted Rifles, I don't know ... he was injured on the Somme and found the experience of war so appalling that he would rarely speak of it.

I went twice to Gallipoli, while living in Turkey.  The Turks have forgiven the invaders and actually take good care of the soldiers who fell there. In fact ...

Turkey became a republic in 1923 and Kemal became the first president. During his 15-year rule, many sweeping changes were introduced to the political, legal and socioeconomic fields. He was an immortal hero to his people and an extraordinary leader and peacemaker. Kemal said in 1933, "I look to the world with an open heart full of pure feelings and friendship". In 1934, he accepted the title "Atatürk" (father of the Turks).

In 1934 Atatürk wrote a tribute to the ANZACs killed at Gallipoli:  Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

This shot was taken in Mesen, as the New Zealand navy greeted Bruce Simpson of Ngati Rana, the London Maori Club.

I Think I Have Stories to Tell Tonight ...

I'm almost sure I have things to say ...

I was accepted by the NYC gallery, as one of their photographers but I couldn't afford them.  There was a lot of money involved and, in the end, it seemed more about money than art.  I would have loved working with them but by the time Gert and I reached the end of the contract, it was clear.  And so very over.

Today a client ... a friend, the lines often blur, sent me a pdf of the book she's been writing.  It's full of my photographs from that time when I was working with her, having some of the most excellent adventures and wandering the world, photographing so many friendly and talented artists.

So I'm excited about that.

And I won a prize today.  Last Friday, I almost couldn't breathe for stress because I was two weeks behind on my rather intensive marketing course.  I sat here at the computer, Saturday, Sunday ... Monday, and mostly caught up.  And somewhere along the way, I posted news of my one-day photography workshop for women.  It sold out in 12 hours. So I won the prize that I had taken no notice of last week.  I was 'that' far behind.  I shared the winning with Chris, the one we all knew would win.

I transcribed two Genova interviews this afternoon, then wrote them up as short pieces for a most exciting new Ligurian website launching soon.  Photos were sent.   And now for the rest.  These were the shortest interviews.

It's been slightly manic of late.  Life is humming.  I'm attending a Māori hāngi in the months ahead.  Photos and stories shall surely be posted because I can see how that event might become one of those big old delicious stories, out there on Flanders Fields.

There's talk of Norway and a favourite friend at the end of summer.  Lots of photography.  And I'm organising a series of 5-day workshops in Genova.  If you have ever wanted to work with me then this is the one because I have a truly superb group of Genoese people willing to work with me.  However my webpage is still under construction.  It's all there, just not the 'Buy' button nor dates.  I'm currently looking at July, earlier if there's time for anyone to be interested, then September, October, November.

However, I will get that under control in the days ahead.

Amy Turn Sharp is one of the poets I love best and she has finally published her first collection.  I wrote. I have ordered.  News of that will follow.  Kay McKenzie Cooke is another favourite poet.  She has also published a new book.  I want to get there too.  And Ren Powell is writing and will publish again, I'm sure of it.

Life is good.  It's slightly surreal.  I'm busy.  I'm babysitting Miss 9 for this week-long crocus vacation, and sure enough, there are some little yellow beauties out there in the garden.  And in-between everything else, I'm reading my way through a most excellent book ... the Man Booker prize-winning book, The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton.  I shall be sad when it comes to an end.

Out on Flanders Fields ...

And the struggle to return to Belgium continues ...

Belgians are all surprised by, and talking of, the long grey sunless winter continuing on into February.

Did I mention ... no sun, tons of greyness, and loads of pollution as all of Europe passes by us on our highways?

Anyway I've been busy.  I photographed the most delicious Belgian wedding on Saturday.  Truly lovely people and I hope to get permission to post some of those images soon but Sunday and Monday ... Oh My!

I was back out on Flanders Fields attending the reburial of a WW1 soldier from New Zealand ... he was recently discovered and although they did all that they could, and came close, they were unable to identify him for sure.

But where to begin because it was about so much more ...

Saturday night, just after the wedding, there I was at Central Station in Antwerp waiting for the talented London-based New Zealand, soprano Carleen Ebbs.  Gert and I spent a enjoyable evening with her before Martin, from the blog Messines 1917 picked us up, early Sunday morning.  We were heading off to  Flanders Fields, through snow, to participate in the reburial of the New Zealand world war one soldier.

The moment was captured by Belgian television (I am there at around 8 seconds, completely oblivious to the cameraman, as I planned my next shot).  New Zealand television was there too.  I only appear in the Belgian clip  and had to laugh, as I had no idea I was being filmed but do have a photograph of the cameraman filming me ... I discovered it today.  I was photographing someone near him.

But first there was Sunday, the day before the reburial.  Martin OConnor and I went wandering with some New Zealanders based in London.

It felt like a time of privilege as we were introduced to a little Maori history and protocol and I was allowed to photograph this man as he made his way through the cemeteries.

Anyway, below is a random series of photographs taken over those two days ...

Tot later!

RIP - Ivan Sinnaeve aka Shrapnel Charlie

Today I learned that Ivan Sinnaeve, better known as Shrapnel Charlie, had passed away yesterday, via The Belgians Have Not Forgotten blog.  And the news continues out into the world, via those who knew him, everyone sad to have lost him.  He had a way about him that left people smiling.

I went searching, and found my story of meeting this remarkable man ... back in 2009. 

I met Shrapnel Charlie yesterday.  Meeting him was as a part of my quest to create a photography exhibition about the people out here on the Westhoek ... the people who take care of the memory of the soldiers who died in WW1.

Valerie was my guide, my patient guide, who drove me to Ieper where we both enjoyed meeting this lovely man.  He was quiet yet brimming full of fun.  It soon became clear that he was also a man known to many all over the world.

Ivan Sinnaeve is his real name but he explained that the Canadians had needed to find their own way of dealing with his ‘Russian-sounding’ name and then, failing with the Belgian pronunciation (E-van), they decided to christen him Shrapnel Charlie, in recognition of the magic he works with the old shrapnel found out here on the WW1 battlefields of Flanders. Shrapnel he said he had initially been accustomed to finding out in this vegetable garden, as  turning the soil anywhere in this area usually means finding some artefact from that terrible war.

A carpenter by trade, Ivan’s career was cut short when his back was broken in an accident, leaving him with constant pain and time on his hands.  He told us he fell into this business of recreating soldiers and regiments from long ago ...but not as a real business.  Ivan, like so many who work hard at preserving the memories of the soldiers who died on Flanders Fields, never charges anything that would see him making a profit from the war dead.

We took us out to his garden shed, a space considered holy by so many kiwi men I knew growing up ... but even I have to admit, his shed was magnificent.  I could imagine the kiwi blokes drooling a little, as they ran their eyes over the collection of ‘stuff’ Ivan keeps out there.  The shell - preserved so you could see how it worked internally, timers on the end and including the containers of shrapnel.  He took us through the process of making a shrapnel soldier and I ended up learning more than expected from my photo-shoot.

This was no passive photography shoot.  Ivan is a charming and amusing raconteur.  And charmed we were, by this man who has created so many thousands of shrapnel soldiers during his time.  We were sad to leave, as we could have easily spent the day with him however, it was time to give him back some of the peace we had shattered, while photographing him doing this thing and that.

Many thanks to Ivan, and to Valerie, it was a lovely way to spend a morning.