The Battlefield Photography of Michael St Maur Sheil
Sharing a story of how war and terrain shape each other requires a photographer that is both an artist and a historian. Michael St Maur Sheil’s photography bridges a gulf between remembrance and history, offering a unique lens on the path that nations and their lands take from war to peace. “Lands of Battle, Images of Peace,” a new online exhibition from the National WWI Museum and Memorial, explores the lasting impact of WWI across the fields, mountains, shores and towns where some of the fiercest fighting took place.
After studying Geography at Oxford, Sheil began his career in the early 1970s as a photojournalist covering “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Here he became associated with the New York picture agency Black Star, and over 30 years later he is still in the fortunate position of being paid to do what he loves doing — taking photographs. Sheil has visited over 60 countries around the world, working for a wide range of clients such as ABC, Time, National Geographic and The New York Times.
Sheil’s photography for “Lands of Battle, Images of Peace” spans the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. The photos share the impact of war and the juxtaposition between the land’s beauty today and the horrors that took place there a century ago.
In France, rusted ammunition remains, a reminder of the U.S. soldiers who died in the Argonne Forest in early October 1918. A German observation platform can be found in Bois d’Ormont, France, and the deep scars in the land around Beaumont Hamel still exist from the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The impact of WWI was felt far beyond the more known European trenches. In Africa, British farmers and settlers volunteered to protect vulnerable railways from German-led guerilla attacks. The British military expanded the railway between Kenya and neighboring Uganda as more soldiers arrived at camps not far from Taveta. Today, the railway still exists. In Gallipoli, Turkey, poppies now grow on a hill where 109 years ago, 5,000 Allied casualties fell and were eventually consumed by
a wildfire ignited by artillery barrage.
Thirty photographs are included in the online exhibition, many with accompanying photos from the Museum and Memorial’s robust collection and some with audio commentary from Sheil. “Lands of Battle, Images of Peace” is accessible from anywhere in the world at theworldwar.org/exhibitions.
–National WWI Museum and Memorial