"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

10 November, 2008

Why I never want to forget to remember

This image: copyright Ian Britton

I seem to have been more than usually lachrymose of late. What with the Obama speech, Saturday night’s Festival of Remembrance and the Last Post at 11.02 am on Sunday morning. Even two minutes of total silence can get me started, it seems.

Yet I don’t really think I have anything to be ashamed of. There were plenty of cyber-confessions of Obama tears last week from the most unlikely members of the Bloggerati and the fast-emerging Twitterocracy.

As for Remembrance Sunday? As a student, I used to sneer at poppy wearers, declaring myself a pacifist. Thankfully, I’m a little more circumspect these days and I was actually rather touched to see how many of my young undergraduate Facebook mates replaced their profile pictures for poppies over the weekend.

When I first started this blog, I had a small column where I would record the latest British fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq. From my desk, I frequently see C-17s flying over to RAF Lyneham or Brize Norton. More often than not, they are carrying a Union Flag draped coffin. One of my stepsons is in Kandahar so I keep a pretty close eye on the news from those datelines.

I deleted the fatalities column a couple of months ago. It just became too depressing. For the same reason, I’ve pretty much stopped looking at the memorial websites. You can read about Yubraj Rai of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, shot south of Musa Qaleh on November 4th here:

I do, however, keep the small item about Turner-prize winner Steve McQueen and his “Queen and Country” project. McQueen currently has a feature film out, entitled Hunger about Bobby Sands and the IRA hunger strikers which has, predictably, been fairly controversial.

However, I don’t think there can be that much dissent about the integrity and purpose of “Queen and Country” for which project McQueen worked with more than 100 bereaved families of servicemen and women killed in Iraq. I was thrilled to see a comprehensive article by Sarah Crompton about "Queen and Country" and the Royal Mail’s continued refusal to issue the stamps in the Telegraph on Saturday 8th November. Click here to read her earlier appraisal of the work.

I would urge anyone who has an opportunity to see this project itself to go. It is difficult to describe well but it is an astonishingly powerful work. It’s on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh from 3rd December to 15th February 2009. To sign the ArtFund’s petition to persuade Royal Mail to issue the stamps click here:

I’ve always found it rather fitting that our November period of remembrance coincides with the gathering mists and denuded trees of approaching winter. It is certainly always a particularly poignant season for me. My husband Peter Griffin (b.1950) died on Friday, 7th November, 1997, at the very end of an absolutely glorious Indian summer and an incredibly brave two year fight with kidney cancer. It was a gloomy afternoon, less than a week after the clocks went back, that time of year when everything suddenly seems to get very dark indeed.