The heroic deeds of the landings at Normandy and the Allied triumphs of WW2 are the defining moment of a dying generation. I have a keen interest in what remains of these sacred locations, both in images & words. In April of 2011 I began the project “Battlefield Cant” and visited the Normandy D-Day landing beaches and battlefields photographing with my trusty wooden 8×10 Deardorff camera. Being deeply affected by reading the accounts of our soldiers, I was motivated to start a collection of quotations from American veterans who fought in these locations.
The project is called, “Battlefield Cant”. The project title was made from the following:
Battlefield n. the field or ground on which a battle is fought.
Cant n. the phraseology peculiar to a particular class, party, profession
“Battlefield Cant” is a series of photographs from the European battlefields of WW2 and prose from the soldiers who fought there.
Omaha Beach – Dog Green Sector
“I started out to cross the beach with 35 men,
and only 6 got to the top, that’s all”.
~Lt. Bob Edlin
This is the beach made famous in Saving Private Ryan. It is estimated that on D- Day, 3,000 American Forces were killed in action at or near this location. The honor of photographing on this hollowed ground is one of the finest moments I have ever spent behind a camera.
Pointe Du Hoc
“The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers, at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, 90 could still bear arms.”
~President Ronald Reagan at the memorial dedication.
A brutal assault that was needed to silence the big guns that could range both Omaha and Utah beach, this was an essential target to nullify at the start of the battle. The Rangers were elite and were up to the job, but at a terrible loss.
“We’ll start the war from here”
~Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt
When I went to photograph at Utah, I was greeted by a festive scene, horses on the beach, children playing. This site was now a recreation area and I could have been on Long Island for all it appeared. However, on D-Day this was an essential landing beach that saw artillery bombardment and the blood of Americans being spilled to secure it. I had to work to find these dunes to photograph, Utah was challenging to find the spirit of the place.
Excerpt from “A Paratroopers Prayer”
All mighty God, Our heavenly Father, who art above us, and beneath us, drive from the minds of our paratroopers any fear of space in which thou art ever present. Give them confidence in the strength of thine everlasting arms to uphold them. Endure them with clean minds and hearts that they may participate worthily in the victory which this nation must achieve. George B’Wood, Major Chaplain 82nd Airborne.
While I was scouting for locations in the middle of the day I entered the main church in the center of Sainte-Mere-Englise to find some respite from the hot June heat. At the entrance there was a info point telling the story of how a few Germans asked the priest of the church to hide them from the American Paratroopers that were scouring the area. The priest told them, “hide in the vestry, but don’t drink the wine”. The germans hid, and the priest went out side, found some Paratroopers and told them there were Germans hiding in the church. After a fast battle, the Americans cleared the church and killed the hiding germans. When I scouted the location I found evidence of the battle in the form of a hole in the glass that contained a Mary. This was left over from the fight, and the locals were putting their prayers on paper and inserting them in the bullet hole.
I was alone in the church, and proceeded to set up the Deardorff and make an exposure. It was very dark, and the exposure long. About 7 minutes factoring in reciprocity and bellows extension. I was proud I nailed the exposure, and during the long time, next to the statue was a prayer book where I found the Cant for this image.
Here are a few more images from the Project Battle Field Cant.
I launched a Kickstarter Campaign to fund this project and help send me to the next two locations to complete the project. I need to travel to Belgium and shoot in the snow for the Battle of the Bulge and then to go to Holland to photograph the battlefields of Operation Market Garden.
My choice of gear to shoot this project is very specific. I don’t feel comfortable shooting with a digital camera, these locations and the deeds that were done by the finest men of the United States of American deserves more than zero’s and ones, they deserve large format photography! All the images were shot on Ilford FP4 that was donated by Ilford for the project. The primary lens was a Dagor 8 1/4″.
I look forward to completing this project and printing the work all on Platinum Palladium.
My deepest gratitude goes out to the Veterans who fought in WW2. For them we owe all our thanks.