I suppose this is a less comfortable history within those memories that people take away from World War One. Almost 100 years later there was still so much shame associated with having fought in the war and having been deemed a coward or deserter and executed for it.
There was a pardon in 2006; they were saying generally, quite a few people shouldn’t have been executed. That seemed like a very important moment for a lot of family members. I that people are just given space to think about those people rather than let them be forgotten.
The whole series is called Shot at Dawn, and that’s because these people were always executed very early morning, before the rest of warfare continued for the rest of the day.
At first I wondered whether, you know, not having a family connection with world war was a problem, because it felt like a really difficult, huge subject, to find something that I might be able to comment on or have some sort of input on.
After quite a lot of research, I found out about people who were executed for cowardice and desertion. I thought it was really important to photograph the sites at the same season as when the execution had happened, and also at the same time of day, so I went back all throughout 2013.
So this one was in Ferfay in the north of France. It was a slag heap. There were other ones all along the Western Front, so in Belgium and all through France towards Germany. I was able to come up with 23 sites.
So this photograph was taken in West Flanders. It’s called Verbranden-Molen, this area, and it’s quite a rare case of a decimation. So that means every tenth person in the regiment was executed. They were told to go over the front. The battalion before them had gone, had been slaughtered. They said, we’re too tired, we can’t do it, and therefore there was a decimation ordered – a very rare, but appalling punishment.
This is one of the five pieces that will be in the Tate exhibition.
Each work is named with the names of the people who were executed there, the times of death, the dates of death and then the location; and in the exhibition it will be always shown next to the work.
It’s really the relationship between the text and the image that really make the point that I’m trying to make. You’re stamping the presence of that person back into this empty landscape, so it’s really the absence that’s glaringly present.