‘The Flooded Trench’ is a large format photographic work that was exhibited at Back from the Front: Re-membering I at the Royal West of England Academy.
Taking inspiration from Siegfried Sassoon’s poem ‘The Redeemer’, ‘The Flooded Trench’ focuses on the fatalities of First World War soldiers who drowned in their own trenches. It is a direct response to the terrible experiences these soldiers must have endured in their last moments of life, as they ‘struggle along the ditch’ heaving their leaden limbs and ‘lugging clay-sucked boots’ through ‘the muck’, as described in Sassoon’s poem.
Visually the work relates to painted imagery seen in 'The Menin Road', 1919, by Paul Nash and 'Paths of Glory', 1917, by CRW Nevinson, which depict the realities of life and death in the trenches. Nash’s war commissions in particular achieved a new reality in war art, his vast canvases capturing what he defined as ‘the lights going down on the horizon, the voices dying away, the transformations of the last scene of the drama that one might call The End of the World.’
Fraser's work was shot on a large format analogue field camera, not unlike the kind of equipment used by official photographers at the front from 1914. The scene itself has been staged, using a mixture of ambient and artificial lighting to create a sense of contemplation. It owes as much to early nineteenth century painting by artists such as Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) as it does to recent photographic work such as Jeff Wall’s (b.1946) 'The Flooded Grave'.
The medium of photography allows Fraser to explore complex notions of reality and performance; fact and fiction. Its reference to painterly depictions of warfare sits in sharp contrast with the photographic documentation of artists such as David Cotterrell in Shock and Awe, where scenes that appear staged are in fact barbarically real. Here, Fraser collapses our traditional notion of remembering by placing us within the memory, merging past and present beneath the artificial glow of the camera’s lights: and ‘Then the flame sank, and all grew black as pitch’.
Fraser began his photographic career in advertising working primarily in the commercial sector. He has won awards from, and exhibited in, the National Portrait Gallery’s Portrait Photography Award, London, UK; Arles Photography Festival, Arles, France; Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK; International Photography Awards, New York, USA, and Santa Fe Awards, New Mexico, USA. Since 2009 his practice has been research based. He is currently working on photography’s cultural and historical relationship to death, concentrating on the contemporary portrayal of death through the photographic medium.
He appeared at the First World War Day: Bristol 2014 Arts Projects event on 15 November at Watershed.