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Impressions Gallery

exhibitions: current

No Man's Land: Women's Photography and the First World War

07th Oct - 30th Dec 2017

No Man’s Land offers rarely-seen female perspectives on the First World War, featuring images taken by women who worked as nurses, ambulance drivers, and official photographers, as well as contemporary artists directly inspired by the conflict. Commemorating the First World War Centenary, No Man’s Land features photographs by three women of the epoch, alongside three women making work a century later.

Highlights include frontline images by nurses Mairi Chisholm and Florence Farmborough, some of which have never been exhibited or published; photographs by Olive Edis, the UK’s first female official war photographer despatched to a war zone; and new work by contemporary photographer and former soldier Alison Baskerville. This is the premiere of the nationally-touring exhibition before it travels to Bristol Cathedral, The Turnpike in Leigh, and Bishop Auckland Town Hall.

Unconventional motorcyclist-turned-ambulance driver Mairi Chisholm (1886–1981) set up a First Aid post on the Western Front with her friend Elsie Knocker. Using snapshot cameras, they recorded their intense life under fire at Pervyse in Belgium, just yards from the trenches. The images on display in the exhibition, drawn from Chisholm’s personal photo-albums, record her vitality and humour in the midst of great suffering.

Pioneering Olive Edis (1876–1955) is thought to be the UK’s first female official war photographer sent to a war zone, and one of the first anywhere in the world. A successful businesswoman, inventor, and high-profile portraitist, Edis photographed erveyone from Prime Ministers to Suffragettes. During the Armistice, she was commissioned by the Women’s Work Subcommittee of the Imperial War Museum to photograph the British Army’s auxiliary services in France and Flanders. Edis took her large studio camera on the road, often developing plates in makeshift darkrooms in hospital x-ray units. Her skilfully-composed images show the invaluable contributions of female engineers, telegraphists, commanders and surgeons.

On the Eastern Front, nurse and amateur photographer Florence Farmborough (1887–1978) documented her incredible experiences with the Russian Red Cross on the border of Galicia (present-day Ukraine and Poland). At a time when the British press avoided explicit images, Farmborough depicted the horrific consequences of war, including corpses lying in battlefields. Her images of Cossack soldiers, makeshift field tents, and Christmas in an old dug-out, offer rarely-seen views of the Eastern Front before Farmborough fled the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.  

Contemporary photographer Alison Baskerville is a former soldier with an insider’s perspective on women’s experiences in the armed forces. With Soldier, a new commission made specially for No Man’s Land, Baskerville has been directly inspired by Olive Edis to make a series of portraits of present-day women in the British Army. Working in collaboration with Ishan Siddiqui, Baskerville has produced a series of digital autochromes — a contemporary version of the early twentieth-century colour technology pioneered by Olive Edis. Presented as lightboxes, the portraits have a distinctive hazy appearance, made up of thousands of tiny coloured dots that glow.

Contemporary artist Dawn Cole was inspired by the chance find of a suitcase in the attic of a family house, discovering the photographs and diary of her great-aunt Clarice Spratling, a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in Northern France. Cole uses a many-layered technique incorporating photo-etching, digital manipulation and lace-making. She ‘weaves’ words from Clarice’s diary entries into images of lace-edged handkerchiefs and collars, creating photographic prints with hidden messages that explore the gulf between public face and private feelings.
 
Shot at Dawn by contemporary artist Chloe Dewe Mathews focuses on the ‘secret history’ of British, French and Belgian troops who were executed for cowardice and desertion between 1914 and 1918. Her large-scale colour photographs depict the sites at which the soldiers were shot or held in the period leading up to their execution. All are seasonally accurate and were taken as close as possible to the precise time of day at which the executions occurred. Made a hundred years later, her images show places forever altered by traumatic events.

No Man’s Land is a national touring exhibition curated by Dr. Pippa Oldfield and co-produced by Impressions Gallery, Bristol Cathedral, The Turnpike, and Bishop Auckland Town Hall.

The exhibition is supported by Arts Council England Strategic Touring, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for Historical Photographic Research.

Soldier by Alison Baskerville is commissioned by Impressions Gallery. Shot at Dawn by Chloe Dewe Mathews is commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford as part of 14–18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.

The exhibition is accompanied by the New Focus project and publication No Man's Land: Young People Uncover Women's Viewpoints on the First World War, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund: Young Roots.


Exhibition resources

Click here to download an information sheet about the exhibition (pdf 1MB)
Click here to download an exhibition guides (pdf 4MB)


What the papers say

The Guardian
The Daily Mail
Amateur Photographer
The Yorkshire Post
Telegraph and Argus
F Stop
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Commandant Johnson and two other women of the General Service Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Motor Convoy outside Nissen Huts, Abbeville, France, 1919 © IWM (Q 8036)

Commandant Johnson and two other women of the General Service Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Motor Convoy outside Nissen Huts, Abbeville, France, 1919 © IWM (Q 8036)

Click on thumbnail below to enlarge

Commandant Johnson and two other women of the General Service Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Motor Convoy outside Nissen Huts, Abbeville, France, 1919 © IWM (Q 8036) Miss Minns, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), Matron of a Hospital on the Quay at Le Havre, France, 1919 © IWM (Q8051) Russian Cossack troops in winter uniforms outside their accommodation huts. © IWM (Q98429) Dead Russian soldier, photographed on the road to Monasterzhiska (Ukraine), 1916 © IWM (Q98431) Elsie Knocker by Mairi Chisholm © National Library of Scotland Mairi Chisholm, Irene 'Winkie' Gartside-Spaight in No Man's Land c.1916 © National Library of Scotland Private Joseph Byers Private Andrew Evans Time unknown / 6.2.1915  Private George E. Collins 07:30 / 15.2.1915   Six Farm, Loker, West-Vlaanderen © Chloe Dewe Mathews Private Henry Hughes    05.50 / 10.4.1918  Klijtebeek stream, Dikkebus, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen © Chloe Dewe Mathews Wound in back and bullets came out in front © Dawn Cole Men had eyes removed © Dawn Cole Louise from Soldier (2011–16)  © Alison Baskerville

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