Portraits of remembrance: glass plate photographs of British service personnel

Reading Time: 3 minutes

By 1915, the scale of the horror of the First World War was becoming abundantly clear. This was the year of the Battles of Gallipoli, Ypres and Loos. In Benjamin Reeves’ photography studio in Lewes, Sussex, young sergeants, sailors, privates and lieutenants were preparing for battle in their own, deeply personal way – by having their portrait taken. These photographs were often presents, tokens to pass to mothers, fathers and loved ones in their absence. But they were also a proof of existence, of a life that might be extinguished too soon.

100 years have now passed. But in the same studio, using the same camera and even the same hand-painted backdrop, British Service men and women are having their portrait taken for the Royal British Legion’s 2015 Poppy Appeal  – and by a Reeves man, no less. 

Alex Bamford, Art Director of the project, tells us that researching old portraits from the era led them to Edward Reeves Photography, the world’s longest established photographic business (founded in 1855, a year after British Journal of Photography).

“We were keen to show that the Royal British Legion doesn’t only support the service men and women of the past. Tom Reeves was generous enough to open his archive of glass plates of soldiers taken by his grandfather in 1915.”

Tom Reeves was able to use the exact same equipment and technique as his grandfather, no easy feat considering the camera had not been used in 65 years. As Bamford explains, this familial bridge between generations echoes what the Royal British Legion hope to accomplish the project.

“The link we have created between present and past shows how very little has changed in one hundred years. Even though the way that wars are fought is very different  now, the human stories remain the same. We’re not overtly trying to portray our servicemen as heroes, but as ordinary people.”

Watch the behind-the-scenes story here.



505009_6003918_16-9_HR5 505009_6003918_16-9_HR5

505009_6003918_16-9_HR3 505009_6003918_16-9_HR3

505009_6003918_16-9_HR4 505009_6003918_16-9_HR4



IPA 2015 last chance