Soldier — No Man’s Land
Chapter II
2014 — 2018

When you type the word ‘soldier’ into a search engine the following description appears - A soldier is one who fights as part of an organised land-based armed force. A soldier can be an enlisted person, a non-commissioned officer, or junior-commissioned officer, or an officer.

If you move onto an image search over 90% of the images depict men, in uniform or with weapons, posing or in action. This stereotype is translated through popular media across the world. Why is gender a factor of how we present the image of a soldier? Where did the masculine association of the uniform become prevalent in the photographic interpretation of the image of war?

Top Row
Baljit, Alex, Louise   
Second Row
Jessica, Kathryn,
Curator Dr. Pippa Oldfield 

Above Soldier on display as part of No Man’s Land at Bristol Cathedral, 2018.

The idea of using photography to highlight the historical context of women in uniform can be seen as far back as the almost androgynous image of a young Russian woman of the Savage Division atop a horse in 1917 evokes much discussion about the gender of the soldier. As Susan R Grayzel, a Professor of History at the University of Mississippi writes in her essay for the British Library, “even as women made visible contributions to the war and garnered praise for this, wartime media often signalled that what women did was somehow extraordinary and quite separate from their male counterparts. Despite debates at fairly high levels of government in both Britain and Germany, for instance, about compulsory labour for women, every task that a woman performed was in some sense voluntary in the way that the conscripted male labour of soldiering was not.”
As a photographer I have been researching and producing an ongoing series which aims to document and present the day-to-day realities of life for women in the British Army. Being a former member of the military has left me with an understanding of the nuances of army language and nicknames and being able to talk to the women in a way that makes me less like the other and more like one of them has helped to spend time with the women in places ordinarily inaccessible to the main stream media. However, there are many elements of this project that have challenged the need for neutrality and how to present this work that detaches from my own personal experiences, while also accessing those to inform the work. Whilst the wider media narrative is important I think the story beyond this goes some way to challenge stereotypes are perpetuated by the press.

Solider is currently on display as part of No Man’s Land, a touring group exhibition presenting rarely seen female perspectives on the conflict of the first world war. Showcasing the work of three historical and three contemporary female photographers, the show will visit Impressions Gallery in Bradford, Bristol Cathedral, The Turnpike in Leigh and Bishop Auckland Town Hall between October 2017 and April 2019.

For more information visit the Impressions Gallery website.

© Alison Baskerville 2019