Photographer Mike St Maur Sheil was rewarded with this dramatic view of Messines Ridge, near Ypres, after waiting nine hours for the perfect light ©2014 Mike St Maur Sheil / Mary Evans Collection.

'Fields of Battle' photo exhibition visits Paris ahead of UK First World War Centenary tour

Posted on on 09 May 2014
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An outdoor photographic exhibition, capturing the haunting beauty of many of the First World War battlefields as they are today, is on show at one of the most historic parks in Paris.

'Fields of Battle - Lands of Peace 14-18' is the work of photo-journalist Mike St Maur Sheil. Through the landscapes of battle, he aims to bring the Centenary directly to millions of people with a tour running until Armistice Day 2018.

The Paris exhibition is being hosted by the upper house of the French Parliament, the Senate, on the railings of the Jardin du Luxembourg in the heart of the capital.

The UK tour will be officially launched at St. James's Park in London on 4th August 2014, the 100th anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany.

Rather than explaining the history of the war, Mike Sheil says his aim is to stimulate interest by revealing the battlefields as they look now. Every picture is related either to an event or a personal story.

Mike says: “This collection represents a legacy which I hope will create a gateway to the battlefields themselves, thus encouraging people to visit these historic landscapes during the Centennial period and so create awareness and understanding of the events and historical implications of the First World War."

Traces of the fighting can still be found, but as Mike explains: "I'm not seeking to show the misery and the horror of the battlefield. I'm just trying to show that nature has indeed come along and healed."

Fields of Battle: The street gallery at the Jardin du Luxembourg ©2014 Mike St Maur Sheil / Mary Evans Collection

Mike was inspired to start the seven-year project after a chance meeting with the late Richard Holmes, the military historian, broadcaster and expert on the First World War.

He explains: "I suddenly realised there was this whole subject which I knew nothing about and it then struck me that with 2014 coming on, it was going to be the 100th anniversary of the war.

"Between us we agreed that what we wanted to do was to document the battlefields as they are today."

Information panels accompanying the 'battlescape' pictures link the contemporary image to events at the scene 100 years ago, using archive photos, maps, poems and infographics, together with moving personal accounts of the Great War.

Mike says he's very honoured that the French Senate chose him to become the first artist from the British Isles to hold an exhibition on the railings at the Palais du Luxembourg, a former royal residence and now seat of the Senate.

Talking about his compelling and often dramatic pictures, Mike Sheil reminds us of the words of King George V when he visited Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world, near Passchendaele in 1922: 

"I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war."

A simulation of the exhibition in place at St James's Park, opposite Horse Guards ©Wecommunic8

'Fields of Battle - Lands of Peace 14-18' moves from Paris to London on August 4. The free outdoor exhibition will then be on view in St.James's Park, close to Whitehall and in partnership with Royal Parks, until September 15. After that, it transfers to Nottingham where it will feature in the city's 'Trent to Trenches' commemorative programme. 

The exhibition, funded by the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund, is due to visit towns and cities across Britain until the Centenary of the Armistice on 11th November 2018.  Interest is being shown by Norwich, Leeds, Henley-on-Thames, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Perth, Belfast, Portsmouth, Brighton, Southampton and Cardiff.

Information and images supplied by Mike St Maur Sheil ©2014 Mike St Maur Sheil / Mary Evans Collection; ©Wecommunic8

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News