For New Zealanders, April 25th isn’t just another day on the calendar.
It marks the landing of the ANZACs - the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915 in the first major campaign fought by New Zealand and Australian troops during WWI. Despite costing the lives of over 3000 New Zealanders, it cemented the ANZACs a special place in New Zealand history. Henceforth, April 25th was christened ANZAC Day - a testament to those who fought and died for our country.
Four years ago marked the ANZAC centenary - 100 years since Gallipoli. As part of the special commemorative celebrations, the History Channel wanted to bring the ANZACs and Gallipoli campaign back to life. And that they did.
Based on the recounts of real ANZAC soldiers, an 8 hour live-action performance was staged in the heart of Auckland’s CBD, giving passers-by the opportunity to experience life in the trenches at Gallipoli. As the stills photographer, I was given the unique opportunity to capture life in the trenches - an absolute honour by any description, but also probably one of my most challenging shoots.
First and foremost, because the photos had to portray a past truth.
Although the audience would know the images weren’t shot in 1915, they had to look like they were - authenticity was paramount. I have never experienced warfare first-hand - I have never lain in a trench, have never killed a fellow human, and have never had to dig a grave for one of my mates. But in order to capture the emotion, the adrenalin, the hardship of life in the trenches, I had to imagine that I had. I had to put myself in the shoes of the soldiers. As you can imagine, with their reality so far removed from our typical day-to-day, it was no easy feat.
The second major challenge was time.
Being primarily a television commercial shoot, the production was massive. As the stills photographer, I was just one small part of the operation. Added to this was the fact that the performance was a public event and that was, above all, the priority. Between the TV crew and the general public, I had a very small window of opportunity to get my shots.
At the end of the day, it came down to a lot of careful planning but also versatility - you can plan and plan and plan but the real key lies in your ability to adapt. Basically I prepared as best as I could, accepted that things would probably not play out exactly according to plan, then on the day made the most of what I had to work with.
I felt like it provided people a glimpse of what everyday life was like for the ANZACs, and I think that’s what made the campaign such a success - it tripled donations for the Returned Service Association’s annual appeal in just one day. To me that just shows that providing people with that dose of reality helps to connect them to an experience, even if they weren’t there themselves.
For historic events like this, images are of particular importance. With no surviving veterans remaining, our connection to and comprehension of their experiences becomes increasingly reliant on representations. And I believe visual mediums, especially photos, are the most accurate and compelling means by which these realities can be conveyed.
Looking back, I feel proud to have been given the opportunity to honour those who fought for our freedom in such a unique and powerful way. I also appreciate that, more than 100 years on, people continue to acknowledge the important role the ANZACs played in shaping our country into what it is today.
Tomorrow will be no different - thousands will gather at Gallipoli and at memorials all over New Zealand to pay their respects.
Over 100 years have passed, and we still remember them. In another 100 years, we will still remember them.
Lest we forget