Monday 5 December 2011

Falling for Wilfrid Owen

I arrived very late at a lecture about the Bloomsbury group, just in time to field three photographs that the lecturer had sent through the rows of elderly ladies. Because everyone else had seen them by then, I was able to hang on to them for a while.  One of them was a sepia print of Wilfred Owen the poet, taken by his uncle John Gunston, a butcher whose hobby was photography. Would John Gunston have been amazed that one of his photos - the only one -  is now at the National Gallery?

The photo was taken  two years before Wilfred's death in 1918. He is in his officer's uniform and is about 25 years old.  His gaze is clear, his nose straight, his mouth beautiful under the moustache. He has a slight dimple in the middle of his chin. The face is very precise. The photographer knew his trade, or maybe his sympathy for his subject comes across.Wilfred sits straight but not stiff, neat and tidy, as if ready for parade. The eye of the camera is lower than he is, so that he looks down a little. This look seems to say, This is what I am not - he seems somehow disassociated from the uniform. The brow is not stern, there is no affectation of courage. It is almost as if he is sharing a joke at the paradoxical situation he finds himself in. He is very handsome.

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