November 30, 2014
2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War (WWI) that saw the occupation of a great part of the Belgian territory for 4 long, abominable years. The Belgian army fought hard to defend its territory but was facing an enemy far more prepared. Outnumbered, the Belgian soldiers led by King Albert Ist and assisted by the French, English and Commonwealth armies, managed to stop the German troops by closing the locks of the small Yzer river, inundating a vast plain and leaving the German troops on the Eastern shore of the Yzer river. As a result, a tiny little part of Belgium was kept free from the invaders who were stopped in their attempt to control French ports. Four long, excruciating years of trench warfare ensued, with enemies separated by only a few dozen meters of knee-deep mud littered with dead corpses, barbed wires and other blasted weaponry.
Having served in the Eastern part of Belgium as well as inside the German territory as an intelligence officer, and in great danger of being arrested, my great-grand-father, Camille Barnich fled his home and rejoined the Belgian army behind the Yzer inundated plain. He spent the rest of the war in and around a small Flemish village called Roesbrugge (also spelled Rousbrugge). It is still unclear to me whether Camille was indeed a photographer but the truth is he left us with a couple of shoeboxes filled with dated and stamped postcards illustrating the daily life at and behind the frontline : images of churches' ruins, army trenches, military parades and the likes, a few self-portraits.
Last November, approximately at the same the time the Yzer plain was inundated a hundred years ago, I embarked on a first journey on the steps of Camille Barnich with the idea of documenting what has become of all these places illustrated in these ancient postcards. To accompany this "Then and Now" exercise, I will be counting with the beautiful poems of Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren. Still don't know what will become of this project and under which format it will materialize. Time will tell. I'll keep you posted.