Having always been interested in military history and being brought up on black and white WWII films in the sixties, later when I became interested in photography it seemed only right to start to capture the real men and women I’d seen portrayed in these films. Whilst working in Central London in the nineties there were always military and veteran events taking place and I began to see the wealth of material available for me to photograph.
As my dad was in 7th Field Regiment RA, one of the first artillery units to land on SWORD Beach on D-Day, when the commemorations for the 50th anniversary were announced in 1994, I wanted to go over to Normandy, be part of the commemorations and photograph the veterans – especially the Royal Artillery men.
It was during this trip that I started to make the initial connections with veterans that have lasted for many years. Major Peter Watson MC of the Black Watch and PFC Bill Galbraith of the 101st Airborne who had travelled over from California to attend the ceremonies where amongst the first veterans to allow me to start this new chapter in my life.
These elderly men and women are great personalities with their characters and life stories revealed in their wonderful, expressive faces.
Whilst we all loved film, both black and white and colour transparencies, as technology progresses digital cameras afford you so much flexibility when it comes to taking the images.
Sensors and software are superb at managing the changing light and a motor-drive gives you the optional number of frames instantly should you need them.
This method is useful if I’m present when a veteran is being introduced to a member of the Royal Family. There is the initial moment of shyness and respect and then the jokes and banter appear. It is great to be able to take the best image from a dozen or so you have shot without having to worry about running out of film. Guessing what might happen next and trying to keep one step ahead is all part of the game. I do try to avoid flash indoors if there are other options available.
When you start to talk to these men and women about their lives, where they were born and where they grew up, what job were they doing when they were called up, you find they love to open up and chat away. Did they volunteer or lie about their age at the Recruiting Office and how much did their mum scream when they told her they’d joined up? This information builds a picture of the person you are photographing, helps them relax and hopefully leads to you capturing some great images. The most important part of photography is to experiment and have fun. We all find the levels we are happy at and if something doesn’t work out – delete and start again.
During a trip to Normandy for the 60th anniversary in 2004, a chance meeting with a friend led me to stumble upon the Taxi Charity and I was asked by the then chairman if I would take photographs at their events for them. Two years later, I was invited onto the committee as a Vice President. This has enabled me to have the best possible access to so many remarkable veterans for the last seventeen years and to practice my photography in some wonderful locations and venues.
The quality of my models has been superb, and I would like to thank them all for allowing me into their lives and to capture their images.
Dick Goodwin LBIPP, LRPS