Nearly 9 million people were mobilized to serve in Britain’s military during World War I. By the time photographer Giles Price started seeking veterans of the war in 2005, there were just 23 left. Even fewer lived long enough to have their portrait taken. “I was aware that very few were still alive and wanted to document them while they were alive,” Price said via email.
His series, “The Old Guard,” features portraits of the last 12 veterans of the war, which broke out 100 years ago next summer. At the project’s start, Price wrote letters to each of the veterans requesting to take their photo. Thus commenced a race against time. “I was 20 minutes from taking one sitter when the home rang me to say he had passed that morning. He was 106,” Price said.
Price built a small studio in each of the homes he visited and used a studio flash to light the portraits. He shot the centenarians looking upward and ahead, in an effort to place less emphasis on their extreme age and more on the pride and dignity they retained over the years. “The gaze was one of reflection, be that the war, long life, or anything that we associate with time and memories,” Price said.
Price himself served in the Royal Marines and suffered an injury in Iraq in 1991. “I know how to talk to veterans and have some understanding of what they have been through,” Price said. “It also influenced my shooting practice and editing as to how I wanted to show them.”
Price said that although all of the veterans, who are all now deceased, he met were very frail, all but two of them were still mentally sharp and able to speak about their experiences in the war. “Most spoke about the pointlessness of it all and the friends that they lost because of it. There were no notions of heroics in what they spoke about,” Price said.
To learn more about Price’s work, visit his website.