Peace needs work
We must reject aggression, avoid conflict, my father said.
But pacifism does not lead to peace.
Peace needs positive action.
The bolstering of a national mood.
Soldiers, doctors, nurses, factory workers, intelligence: wars demand a variety of roles. And one of the most interesting I came across was the photographer. In this case, it was a photographer who told tightly stage-managed stories through the images he created. Who portrayed a very specific aspect of war for a very specific purpose.
Allen Hastings Fry was a successful Brighton-based photographer who specialised in military photography. When the Royal Pavilion in Brighton became a hospital for wounded Indian soldiers during WW1, he was called upon to photograph its reincarnation. His propaganda-driven task appeared to be twofold: show the British public how this iconic building had been repurposed and, crucially, show Indian citizens how much their war contribution was valued.
Why? It was imperative that Britain retained the loyalty of its subjects in India to help maintain the British Indian Empire. So to help foster that loyalty, the authorities commissioned these photographs showing wounded Indian soldiers being compassionately cared for in lavish surroundings.
The images Fry created show a fascinating juxtaposition of the clinical and decorative, with crisp, white-sheeted beds arranged in neat rows beneath the wonderfully elaborate Pavilion ceiling. Aside from the artistic and journalistic value of the images, what interested me most was their creator’s motives. Because Fry, war propaganda photographer, was the son of a Quaker pacifist. This fact became a starting point for my centena, as I pondered questions like:
- How did the son of a pacifist become so interested in the military?
- How did he morally reconcile his professional life with his upbringing?
- How did he view his contribution to the war?
I imagined that Fry would have asked these questions of himself and concluded that peace couldn’t happen unaided. I imagined him feeling proud of his role in his country’s ultimate victory. I imagined an experienced photographer in his twilight years, using his camera as a weapon against tyranny.
The Royal Pavilion WW1 centenary events
From Dan Robertson, Curator – Local History & Archaeology, Royal Pavilion & Museums
‘We appear to be running a ‘1918-2018: 100 years Remembrance Season’ which is also encompassing the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918.
As part of the Season, we have a display relating to Ernest Beal who was awarded the Victoria Cross – more info can be found here.
We’re also running a series of WW1 ‘Bite-size Museum Talks’ (at least one a month) until the end of the year.’