A few years ago in Les Angles, France, near the Spanish border, I came across a collapsed cottage, its roof shingles caving in, door hanging off, woodwork tumbling to the ground. I took a photo of it, not because of the decrepitude but because of the colours. Every one of the dark grey shingles was partly covered in orange lichen, the stones of the walls were of varying earthy tones, and the door was a rich cedar brown. But today I’m switching the image to black and white to see how it compares with an image from my father’s WW2 album of a bombed building and a boy raising his arm. (Defiance? Victory?) The photo was taken in the Middle East, probably Egypt. Both buildings in the photos are ruined, no longer habitable, probably beyond repair.
I like the softness of the 1941 image. Despite it being a scene of war damage, the picture is easy to look at, I don’t need to see more detail. What’s there is enough. Usually I turn away from shots like this, confronted as we are these days with countless graphic scenes of destruction on our news pages. But this one I can look at.
By contrast, the recent image of a French cottage in a ski town in the Pyrenees is starkly clear. I suspect a weighty load of snow has brought down the roof. This photo which I took in 2015 has definition to each of the shingles, stones and pieces of timber, even a few nails sticking out of the boards, making it an interesting image to analyse. To compare the blocks in the foreground of each image, those in the 1941 photo are roughly defined but not sharp like those in the newer one. The building in the background of the Egyptian photo looks interesting and I would like to see more of its detail. So, my conclusion is that the newer photo is more useful information-wise, but the old picture from World War Two gives enough information about war, and no more is needed.