Today marks 75 years since the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944. The largest seaborne invasion in history, thousands of allied soldiers lost their lives on a day seen as integral to the overall victory in the Second World War.
Professional photographer, Photoshop trainer and Loxley Colour Ambassador Glyn Dewis has been creating a series on WWII photography. We chatted with him to discover what encouraged him to start this series and what he will be doing to commemorate this anniversary.
‘Don’t give to expect to receive’
It’s clear to see Glyn’s passion and respect for veterans in his work. He believes his interest in WWII came from his uncle Jeff:
“I always loved as a boy (and still do) visiting his house and going into his office, which is like a museum filled with military artifacts and mounted medals of family members that had served in the Great War and World War 2, namely my great grandad and grandad.”
He first got the idea to create a series of WWII-based portraits after watching the new Dad’s Army film. Having always loved those characters and been interested in the history, he realised it would be great to photograph real-life veterans, so their relatives would have beautiful keepsakes to remember them by in years to come. A friend got him in touch with the Oxfordshire Home Guard Living History Group and from there he started his series.
From the experience of photographing this group, more and more opportunities came to Glyn. He took portraits for a book named ‘Children – The Way We Were’ for members of a church congregation who had experienced war time as a child. One of the aspects of this project that is incredibly important to Glyn is the idea of paying it forward and doing a good deed:
“I’m a big believer that there is such a thing as a ‘free lunch’ and that if we have a skill, whatever it be, then we should use it for good and not always with the focus on what we can gain from it… This is how the project started and how it now continues to grow. Not something I expected or planned, but to me, it just shows that if you do something for the right reasons and take the focus off yourself, things will happen. Don’t give to expect to receive.”
Glyn has chosen a very specific shooting style for this series. He spent a lot of time looking at portraits from the 1940s and noticed the backgrounds were similar:
“I reverse engineered them and from that I developed a simple one light set up and used a very low contrast grey background… The colour grading of the pictures I do in Adobe Photoshop as part of the retouching process to give a timeless, classical painting feel.”
Keeping the stories alive
Glyn has photographed several brave veterans of the D-Day landings. This series has saw him hear some of the most fascinating, heart-wrenching stories from his subjects, but one in particular had a major impact on his life:
“If I was to say what has had the most impact on me, I would say it was meeting and spending time with veteran Reg Charles who told me that when he was a young man, he made a conscious effort to forgive and not hold grudges as he didn’t want to grow up into a miserable, bitter old man. This had a huge impact on me. So much so, that it directly motivated me to reconnect with my family whom I’d not seen for many years. I was presenting at The Photography Show, NEC in Birmingham and after I came off stage, drove to my mum’s home and knocked on the door. She opened the door and we just hugged and hugged. I now have my family back in my life and this is all because of Reg.”
This year, to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Glyn will be in Normandy photographing more veterans for his series. His work will be on display from the 5th of October at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock.
So far, Glyn’s series has received praise from around the world and it has been an incredible experience for him. He’s pleased with how well the series has taken off, but he is especially proud of the fact veterans are getting more recognition:
“This is all wonderful and I’m so grateful but ultimately this means the project i.e. the veterans are getting the recognition and interest they so deserve.”
He never expected this series to have such an impact on people, but he admits it has had a greater effect on himself than he ever expected:
“Photography is so much more than gear, it’s about the good that we as photographers can do with it if we take the focus off ourselves and put it onto others.”
His ability to help veterans receive this recognition has made him realise this series has to keep going:
“I don’t ever see myself stopping this project. As corny as it may sound, I truly feel that I am doing what I was meant to do – the reason I found photography. With regards to the future of the project, clearly our World War 2 veterans are very elderly, so my priority is to photograph as many as I can over the coming years before we sadly lose them. I want family members to have photographs they can treasure and that can remain in the family for years to come.”
He hopes this series will gain even more resonance and show people how important this generation are to the country:
“I want kids to learn what these great people did, the sacrifices they made, so that it’s never forgotten and, as so many veterans say to me, that it will never happen again.”