Sunday, 21 September 2014

Poppies, poppies, poppies, poppies, POPPIES!

Ever since I saw the first pictures of the ceramic poppy art installation at the Tower of London, I was determined to spend some quality time there with my camera. It's an ambitious project, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the moat around the tower is being filled each day with handmade ceramic poppies assembled and "planted" by volunteers. When complete, on November 11th, each of the 888,246 poppies will represent a British military fatality during WW1.

A year and a half ago our office was very close to the Tower of London and I could walk past there several times a day. I would have loved the opportunity to capture the poppies in every available light in the morning and evening. But we're based over in Bloomsbury now and the Tower of London is not on my normal route. I was lucky to be able to swing by after a visit to a client and circled the path around the tower trying to find the best vantage point for my first poppy photos. Of course it starting raining almost immediately but I was still able to capture some of the splendour of the burgeoning red carpet.

When I'd heard that AL had enquired about volunteering for herself and five friends, I was very keen to be part of the half a dozen early risers. I would have preferred not having to check in at 9am on a Sunday morning but for poppies I was willing to sacrifice sleep and knew it would be worth it. En route I was buoyed by the blue skies and hoped they would linger for our shift of ceramic gardening. I met a lovely woman on the tube who'd volunteered previously and promised I'd have a magnificent day. She also predicted the rain on Saturday would make the ground more amenable to our efforts. Due to the joys of Sunday morning travel I thought I might arrive late, but judiciously jumped in a taxi at Embankment and ended up arriving first, phew!

After checking in we're handed a red volunteer t-shirt and shown an instructional video demonstrating the ceramic poppies being made in the workshop and how we assemble each one in preparation for planting. First we select a rod of a variety of lengths. We feed a small washer, a larger washer and then a spacer, followed by an end cap onto the rod. This is much trickier than it sounds as the washers have to be a tight fit to do their job and even though I'm having to wear gardening gloves to shield me from all that rubberiness, despite the protection my fingers and thumbs are very quickly sore. The end caps are fiendish and all around you can hear the bang bang bang of the volunteers tapping the caps on the wooden assembly tables. When you're on planting duty, you have to remove the end cap (just as tough as placing it on in the first place), impale the rod in the designated location, place a ceramic poppy on top of the washers and persuade the end caps back on again, this didn't get easier. We each undertake a stint of assembly and planting. We rush through our shift quicker than expected and have some quality photography time amongst the poppies. And I was lucky with the blue sky, I just had to get under the tall poppies to capture the poppy red against the blue. I walked around and around shooting over 150 photos from every angle, the poppies against the lake walls of the tower, the red against the blue and the green, the poppies spewing out of the window, the sea of red, juxtaposed against the Shard and the skyline.

Thank you AL for getting us our "red ticket", it was a poignant experience thinking of the significance of each bloom and the tiny part we played in the piece. After 11th November, more volunteers will remove all the pottery flowers and send them back to the workshop for cleaning up and packaging up to send out to those who've pledged for one to support the six service charities that will benefit. I've already got my name down for one, I am sure it will be photographed as well.



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