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Review: Unseen Waterloo, Private Exhibition Launch, Somerset House

Unseen Waterloo preview night

Every year since 2009, Sam Faulkner – photographer on other fascinating projects such as ‘Eagle Hunters’ and ‘Cocaine Wars’ – has travelled to the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium to take photographs of ‘modern day’ Napoleonic soldiers.  Faulkner’s photographs give us a highly emotive insight into individual battlefield experience, recreating the faces of those who fought at Waterloo and conveying moments of victory and crushing defeat. Walking around the gallery, one cannot help but be transported back to a period where Europe beheld the faces of so many war ravaged men, who, after Waterloo, returned back to everyday life scarred by experiences of first-hand conflict. Moreover, these photographs also capture and reimagine a time when individual soldiers’ stories littered the periodical press, the rise of soldierly biography allowing the general public to envision a ‘true’ insight into the trials and tribulations of the everyday military man.

The Hayward Gallery at Somerset House is a fitting location for these impacting images; this grand, airy space really brings Faulkner’s subjects to life. Faulkner has chosen to have each image enlarged to ‘life-size’, so that you can easily study and interact with each militant face – it really is quite an experience. The exhibition’s theatrical, interactive element is unsurprising, given that it was curated by stage designer and director, Patrick Kinmonth. A poignant, and extra historical touch is added by the photographs being hung against a backdrop of Hainsworth fabric, the same scarlet material used to dress the ‘red-coats’ in 1815 – it is still made today in a British mill, using the same manufacturing process.

Emma Butcher at the exhibition
Emma Butcher at the exhibition

Overall, Faulkner’s photographs are a breath of fresh air. Although there are many exhibitions up and down the country focussing on the bicentenary of Waterloo, there is something very real about this one, Faulkner not only attempting to present an informative, historical display, but adding to that a modern narrative that brings back the faces, stories and legacy of unfamiliar soldiers, lost in battle before a time of visual representation and remembrance. On until August 31st (and free!), this is definitely a must-see for all History Vault readers. One thing you won’t get (which was definitely a highlight of the opening) is a goblet of Waterloo-themed beer – you can see how happy I was when this epic surprise was revealed from the picture on the right. Do not fear, however, from a brief browse of the web, you can definitely pick it up elsewhere – be quick though, it’s not long until the commemorations!


Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited

12 June – 31 August

Terrace Rooms, Somerset House

Tickets and further information HERE.


About Emma Butcher

Emma is a PhD student at the University of Hull specializing in Romantic and Victorian literature. Her thesis examines the legacy of colonial, civil and Napoleonic warfare in the works of the Bronte family. She is currently the postgraduate representative of the Northern Nineteenth-Century Network and the British Association for Victorian Studies. She has recently curated the new exhibition at the Bronte Parsonage, ‘The Brontes, War and Waterloo’.

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