Irish composer George Bernard Shaw once said “Like all the greatest historical novels, it is a tale of failure and disguised triumphs.” Photographer Henry Fordham Brown, on the other hand, regarded his World War I photographs as a story about success “in the way of darkness and light.”
In 1912, Brown traveled the world capturing images of life at various points throughout history. His images were presented in a book entitled The Invention of the Somme. The tales in Brown’s photographs tell of hardship and hope. They show life in places that have no resemblance to their present day counterparts, sometimes in the most visually extraordinary ways. He photographed Britain in 1937, for example, during wartime.
Brown’s photographs provide a glimpse into another time and place that may have previously been inaccessible. His images are simple to the point of seeming primitive. Brown often uses food, like the potato, to create or illustrate scenes. He often has cast members from popular musicals playing instruments, and sometimes color is used on historical and geographical labels, or on the outdoor pictorial tables set up during a show. Brown’s work is tremendously engaging because he created such a unique point of view. It is the unique cinematic documentary we would all be able to appreciate from our smartphone cameras today. In the 1920s, Brown’s photographs were used extensively to help children learn the perils of war. And in 1937, social work agencies assigned large sections of the U.K.’s school children to watch Brown’s work. After a game of war, Brown’s photographs, along with a short story of their own, were used as an anti-war textbook.
You can see the Irish photos below.