Calderonia is an experiment in biography through a blog. It tells the story of George and Kittie Calderon’s lives from 30 July 1914 to 30 July 1915 from day to day as it happened, but exactly 100 years afterwards. It therefore feels like a biography in real time. When no facts were known for a particular day, the author posted on subjects ranging from the Edwardians, recently published biographies and his own problems as a biographer, to translating Chekhov and the Commemoration of World War I.
The blog-biography can be accessed in various ways. To read it from the beginning, go to the top of the column on the right and click the appropriate link. You can then read forward in time by clicking the link at the end of each post. If you wish to start at a particular month, scroll down the column on the right to Archive at the bottom. Posts can also be selected through Search Calderonia and the Tags on the right. An update on the complete biography of George Calderon always follows this introduction.
10/2/16. In a recent article in The Times, Richard Morrison complained that the 14-18 NOW commemorations (‘Extraordinary art experiences connecting people with the First World War’) that have been unveiled for 2016 show a ‘pretty tenuous’ link with the realities of the War; one case, he suggested, was even ‘a spurious gimmick’. ‘It’s ironic’, he continued, ‘that the commemoration that has made most impact so far — five million visitors in four months — wasn’t even part of 14-18 NOW.’ He was referring, of course, to the installation by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper at the Tower of London called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.
Setting aside private and local commemorations, which Morrison thinks are best, I know only one artefact so far in the 1914-18 commemorations that is in the Cummins-Piper league, and that is the project by Andrew Tatham called A Group Photograph (which was also not funded by the Arts Council).
Ten years ago my wife and I were in Norfolk and decided to visit some local exhibitions in the ‘Open Studios’ scheme. At Andrew Tatham’s house he directed us to the bottom of his garden, where there was a very small, but light-proof shed. In there, completely alone, we watched an animated film. It is no exaggeration to say that we stumbled out into the light afterwards lost for words.
This film shows the family trees of all the soldiers in a 1915 photograph growing, in Andrew’s words,
over 136 years, mixed in with photos of their families and historical time markers and contemporary music for each year, as well as with cycles of the moon and the seasons. Each of their trees grows like a real tree, with a trunk for each man and branches appearing for children, grandchildren and so on down the generations. There is a baby’s cry for each birth, and a bell toll for each death. You can vividly see the immediate effect of the War on this group of men and get a view on the aftermath.
The film has developed since then, but always been at the heart of what I would call Tatham’s ‘whole-life commemorative installation’, which has gone on for more than twenty years in the form of presentations and talks all over Britain, exhibitions, notably in the Cloth Hall at Ypres in 2015, vibrant media interviews, and now the book:
I will say no more about the nature of this amazing project, but recommend to followers that they go to Andrew Tatham’s own explanation of it: http://www.groupphoto.co.uk/ .
The profundity of A Group Photograph comes from the fact that it evokes the lives and deaths not only of the forty-six members of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, whose commanding officer was Tatham’s great-grandfather, but of the families and friends around them, and their descendants to this day, scores of whom have been intimately involved in the project. It brings history and the present together in a supremely palpable way. It is both War and Peace — and the creation of this continuum is, ultimately, a source of hope to those who experience it through Tatham’s work.
The book, which is beautifully illustrated and very reasonably priced, is prefaced with a poem by Tatham that traces in brief images how he became drawn into the project. The last stanza reads: ‘And now I search/That picture of men in a war/I see today and yesterday/I cannot forget.’ The last two lines say it all.
At the time of writing, I have completed the ‘final edit’ of 17% of my biography of George Calderon. So I might finish the work in another three weeks… Engaging with chapter 2, which narrates from day to day his love affair with Katharine Ripley (i.e. Kittie), was exhausting. I had to get the letters out again to check quotations, and had forgotten how intense, claustrophobic and full of mood swings the relationship was.
This is the most recent ‘Watch this Space’ post. For the archive of ‘Watch this Space’, please click here.