How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother
Roelof Bakker’s new photo-book, How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother is testament to the millions of deaths of World War One, and for anyone affected by war, both soldiers and civilians.
A book launch at a grave. An unbound book at that; pages of images separate, like the gravestones. But bound by history and circumstance. The date is significant – 31st July 2016 – the centenary of the death of a Canadian teenager, who was wounded at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres and died in King George Hospital, London, then interred at Nunhead Cemetery –far from home.
Roelof Bakker’s new photo-book, How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother is testament to the millions of deaths of World War One, and for anyone affected by war, both soldiers and civilians. Some photographs were in Oosterbeek/Arnhem War Cemetery – a World War Two cemetery near where Bakker grew up.
The starting point was a visit to Ypres in 2007, yet it was the inscription on James Carter Irwin’s grave that stuck with him, and in the summer of 2015, he realised that this was the heart of the work. This has now become dedicated to him and his mother Jennie Carter Irwin, who chose those words for his tombstone as carefully as she would have laid out his clothes for his first day at school. Bakker researched this meticulously, and showed me the form she had to fill in for the grave of her bank clerk son. No one knows if she ever made it to Nunhead.
So, an image of James Carter Irwin’s grave starts a series of 33 cards, each with a beautiful image of number, stone, and maybe some foliage, each representing a year of the artist’s adult life, 18 - 50. As Bakker says in the bound-in leaflet, I count from 18 to 50; It takes less than one minute.
The graves were photographed at Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in Belgium, England and the Netherlands. The work – held together by a title cover and black band is a beautiful thing, and spread out makes a heartbreaking grid. It doesn’t aestheticise war, but it does personalise it, as the artist invites us to reflect on the hopes and dreams any of us may have had at twenty two – thirty three – fifty...