19 Aug 2008

Weathered Witness: Relics of the First World War

Weathered Witness: Relics of the First World War / Verstild en Versteend: Relicten uit de Eerste Wereldoorlog by Patrick Goossens, photographer, and Wim Degrande, text and research (Davidsfonds/Leuven, 2007, 24 x 24 cm, 208 pages, ISBN-13 [English]: 978-9058264848, ISBN-13 [Dutch]: 978-9058264688). Introduction by Thérèse Blondet-Bisch at Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC). Weathered Witness is bilingual, i.e. with texts in the body of the book both in Dutch and English, although the text on the paperback is in Dutch, and the dust jacket is printed in English. Available also at Amazon.co.uk.

Weathered Witness is a book I would have liked to have made myself, quite like another book which will be mentioned soon, Back to The Front: An Accidental Historian Walks the Trenches of World War I, by Stephen O'Shea, and for example Paul Virilio's classic Bunker Archeology [sic! misspelled title] (or Bunker Archeologie as the French original title). Although the photo-book Weathered Witness is completely different from Back to the Front, it has more or less the same geographical coverage, and I guess Degrande and Goossens have spent as many walking boots as O'Shea during their years of work for their book. The similarities between Paul Virilio's Bunker Archeologie and Weathered Witness are more obvious, with beautiful large format negative film monochrome photos, short descriptions, nice heavy paper - but Weathered Witness is larger and more exclusive, more like a conventional coffeetable-book. And if the aesthetics of Virilio' photos is modernistic, Patrick Goossens' is gothic - but that might partly reflect the objects photographed, as the Atlantic Wall bunkers from the WW2 are quite modernistic in style, and the remains of the Western Front often appear rather gothic, at least in the dreams. Nevertheless, both photographers have used their objects very well in order to achieve the exact atmosphere they have had in mind, it seems.

Thus, Weathered Witness is a book that should be enjoyed in small pieces, perhaps not more than a half an hour a day, with a glass of calvados, or port wine perhaps, taking sips of the book and of the drink, not too much each time, in order to not loose the taste of it or loose concentration. Degrande's short, well-structured and focused texts - almost annotations - to the photographs unveil the large amont of experience, research work and knowledge behind them.

Weathered Witness is suggestive. It gives the reader inspiration to once again plan a journey to the Western Front, but it also provides food for thoughts and fantasy, for dreams and ideas, for images to the history, quite more so than usual WW1-books. Weathered Witness will probably be the classic photo-book of the remains of the Western Front 1914-1918.

[This book is mentioned in an older posting at this blog.]