Soldiery as a project, has given me the opportunity to indulge my historical ambitions. One of these creative urges has been to photograph a British Field Marshal.
Field Marshal is the most senior rank of the British Army. Higher than all the Generals I’ve captured thus far. Considered a five star rank in today’s modern militaries. In the British Army, Field Marshal has been the most senior rank since 1736.
Since the end of Empire, the rank has become somewhat redundant, this is due to the reduction in the size of Britain’s Armed Forces. The rank is now ceremonial, a gift of recognition from the sovereign to senior military figures, and bestowed on members of the Royal Family.
I wrote to several Field Marshal’s and to my delight a reply, Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie accepted my invitation to sit for a Portrait in London.
Field Marshal Guthrie, Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank, GCB, LVO, OBE, DL was Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, from 1994 to 1997 and Chief of the Defence Staff from 1997 until his retirement in 2001.
Guthrie’s military career saw service with the Welsh Guards and the Special Air Service; he was closely involved in military operations in Northern Ireland and provided advice to the British Government during the Bosnian War and the Kosovo War.
In 2012 Lord Guthrie was handed his Field Marshal’s Baton, in recognition of his remarkable leadership and service by Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II . You can view a Pathe News Clip of another Field Marshal Jan Smuts being handed his Baton back in 1941.
(Below Field Marshals Baton Presented to Field Marshal Jan Smuts OM, CH, ED, PC, KC, FRS)
The Baton is the main symbol of office, only given to Field Marshals. It stems back to ancient origins; namely those of the Roman Empire. A short heavy white Baton was a symbol of the Imperial Mandate given to Roman Military Legates. The Legate would hold the baton upon high, proclaiming, “above your head and mine to represent the power of the emperor”.
The British Field Marshal’s Baton is a symbol of the magnitude of office. The figure of St George and the Dragon is at the top, and at the bottom an inscription from The Queen to Lord Guthrie. The body of the Baton is covered with red velvet.
Looking for inspiration I started with Sir Thomas Lawrence, studying his portraits of the Duke of Wellington. Neo Classical in Style; Lawrence painted the Iron Duke on several occasions. His most vivid depiction, a triumphant portrait of Wellington which dominates the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. Lawrence’s composition is that of victory, heralding Wellington as the finest of military commanders and the liberator of Europe.
Then I moved on to looking at Singer Sargent’s portrait of Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts. The work similar to Sir Thomas Lawrence’s neo-classical depictions. I turned to photography, browsing the National Portrait Gallery archive, I discovered the photographer Alexander Bassano, who photographed Field Marshal Hague. The portrait captured in a solemn and dutiful style, the depictions relay the finery, yet the obligation and commitment of Hague’s role.
With all this in mind I set to work, with a desire to create my own interpretation. Using a red velvet backdrop, I aimed to recreate the symbolism of the fire and blood, that is the Red Coat. The British Military Uniform associated with energy, war, danger, strength and Royal power. These words associate with the office of Field Marshal. Full finery was the order of the day, medals, orders, and number one dress uniform. Wanting to portray Lord Guthrie as the man he is; the Commander held in immense regard.
The positions directed for the sitting are reflective, shooting from a low angle to make Lord Guthrie look prominent and tall. Harsh lighting is utilised to preserve the detail. To me the Portrait is historical , a document, all the detail must be safeguarded. With this in mind I hope I’ve done my predecessors, proud in this my first portrait sitting with a British Field Marshal. Currently I’m accepting public & private commissions both Military and Non Military for Portrait Sittings so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Soldiery (British Army Portraits Book)
The British Army is a diverse and proud organisation with a cherished heritage. ‘Soldiery’, has been a project focusing on historically documenting the modern British Army in a contemporary reflection of historical portraiture of days gone by. Photographed by Professional Portraitist Rory Lewis. Foreword by General Sir James Everard, KCB, CBE NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. This book features portraiture of the Army’s Leaders and Soldiers from a range of iconic regiments. Each depicts the unique identity of the soldier, regiment and rank. Rory also explains his inspirations from the master portraitists of the past and the story behind the project.
- Paperback: 188 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (1 April 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1542989256
- ISBN-13: 978-1542989251
- Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 1.1 x 27.9 cm
This volume is about the images themselves telling their own story. However, behind each sitting there is something greater than the individual alone. This record of the project shapes the context, aims, and achievements. It speaks of inspiration and the key factors behind each image. It is not a history of the British Army. In the words of military historian, Sir John Fortescue: “the civilian who attempts to write a military history is of necessity guilty of an act of presumption.” Instead this book is a document: Of stories.
These portraits represent 12 months of one man’s work to represent others. The result is a remarkable collection of portraits. Perhaps it is my own coming of age. This way of life, as a photographer with passion, combining art and portraiture, hasn’t been a straightforward journey.