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National Memorial Arboretum

Instameets are friendly photographic get togethers where you meet like-minded people for a social chat and take pictures.  The meetings are also held at fascinating venues around the West Midlands.  My usual patch is IgersbirminghamUK or the Westmidlandsphotocollective. Both hold meetings at venues which provide a multitude of photographic opportunities.  Igers_staffordshire is a group that hold Instameets around the Lichfield area.  The venue for this meeting was the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  The Arboretum occupies a large swathe of land just North of Lichfield and is well signposted off the A38.  However, it is a place that I always pass by and think to myself that is somewhere to visit in the future.  When Igers_staffordshire advertised the event then I quickly signed up.  The meeting started in the car park which is one of the strategic places in the Arboretum.  Whilst entry to the site is free, car parking is strictly controlled and must be prebooked.  The entrance and the welcome buildings guide you through to the main body of the Arboretum.  I was greeted by the organisers and it is easy to work out who the photographers are as you will not miss the tripods, backpacks and cameras on display.  Once through the entrance we made our way to the most commanding monument which is the Armed Forces Memorial.  It is not difficult to miss as it sits as a raised structure with an attractive circle of trees.  We posed on the steps for the picture of the group and then started exploring.

National Memorial Arboretum
The inside of the Armed Forces Memorial

You find yourself pulled towards the Armed Forces Memorial, up the steps and into the inner parts.  It borrows heavily in architectural design from the Greeks and Romans.  It is impressive, and it was here that I met Kenneth who is a volunteer at the National Memorial Arboretum. We got talking about the Arboretum and Kenneth outlined some of the major features about the place. He showed me where a shaft of sunlight shines through the gaps in the southern walls onto the central bronze wreath on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month #Armistaceday. Kenneth does two days volunteering and is out in all weathers, greeting visitors. His welcoming smile and enthusiasm help visitors to get the most from their visit. Kenneth is one of many volunteers who I met during my time at the Arboretum. I explained to Kenneth about my ‘100strangers’ project and he agreed to being photographed. This picture shows him standing in the centre of the #ArmedForcesMemorial near the central wreath with the #cenotaph in the background.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CVqFBz6DwvR/
Kenneth, Volunteer

Next, I set off to visit the rest of the Arboretum.  There were several memorials that I passed along the way including those to the Iraq war and The Polish War memorial.   I did like the Irish Infantry Grove.  The paving stones are set out with a map of Ireland.  From there, I wandered into the trees and was taken with the numerous discs with messages on them.  There is so much to take in and this blog only touches the surface.  I posted several sets of pictures on Instagram.

National Memorial Arboretum
Looking through and remembering

The first is a set of lines and colours that made an impression on me. The #shotatdawn memorial by artist #AndyDeComyn was particularly moving.  Consisting of stakes in the ground representing the young men shot by firing squad.  There are several other memorials captured here.

My other reflection from my visit was the numerous Connections in the Arboretum and this is the link for this series of photographs including pictures with permission of soldiers remembering people behind the names. The sun and the rain connect with the memorials to enhance their stories.

It was a moving day out and I covered a fair amount of the Arboretum.  There is still much more to see.  These are the best of the pictures although there were many more to discover. Several of the memorials have been cleverly designed to catch the natural elements such as the sun and rain providing reflections and opportunities for carefully taken pictures that bring out the best in their design.

Finally a big thank you to @igers_staffordshire for organising this instameet. I also met such great fellow photographers.  Follow #igersstaffordshire_nma for all the pictures taken by the group on the day.

National Memorial Arboretum
A rainbow brings hope and joy
Standing with Giants

I have been to several art installations which reflect on the Covid19 pandemic.  I have covered “In Memoriam” Luke Jerram’s flag creation that visited Aston Hall. The flags were blue and white and made from hospital bed sheets.  They were stunningly arranged in a medical symbol. “This is Gratitude” is an Art installation of 51 sculptures championed by Dame Zandra Rhodes. The figures visited Chamberlain square in central Birmingham and were painted by several artists.  These two installations were colourful, moving and told stories about different aspects of the Pandemic. 

Standing with Giants
The front and ….
Standing with Giants
The grounds of Coombe Abbey make a superb setting for the installation
Standing with Giants
The backs of the figures with the messages of thanks and hope.

Would I go and visit a third installation by the “Standing with Giants” organisation?  This post tells the story of my visit to the installation. I nearly missed it and only picked up on the tour via a photographer I follow on social media.  The beautiful grounds of Coombe Abbey were the setting for the visit.  Standing with Giants consists of 300 figures cut out of industrial recyclable materials. On one side, there are colourful paintings of key NHS workers.  When you first encounter the figures, you are struck by how many of them there are.  Already there are emotional touches to the installation as bouquets of flowers have been left at the feet of some of the figures. 

Standing with Giants
Playing hide and seek amongst the figures
Standing with Giants
Having fun
Standing with Giants
Sandy writing her message

Chloë, my grand daughter, started playing hide and seek amongst the figures and I followed her deep into the art display.  As I turned around, there was a surprised waiting for me.  The backs of all the figures were black and there were messages written in white.  The sight of all the black figures wearing white face masks is extraordinary. It was different to the colourful front facing view. The messages were a mixture of thanks, hope and remembrance. The were both moving and a joy to read.  Clive, one of the volunteers, came over to us and handed us one of the white writing pens. Sandy is an ex nurse and she penned a message on back of one of the figures.  We spent a good 15 to 20 minutes taking in the messages and the sights.  It was a different approach and I am fortunate to have seen three different installations that make you think, challenge and also help in reflection about many of the individual tragedies that happened during the pandemic.

Standing with Giants
More of Coombe Abbey

Finally…..We just want to say thank you to Clive who was one of the volunteers on the day we visited ‘Standing with Giants’. Clive explained what to do with writing the messages and showed us where the white marker pens were kept. A friendly face to the installation. Thank you.

Standing with Giants
Clive an enthusiastic volunteer assisting at the Installation.

There is a sense of achievement when BBC England select your picture to be included in the England’s Big Picture Gallery. This is the second one selected this year. It had quite a reaction on social media amassing lots of likes, if that is a good indication these days 🙂

This picture is taken during my exercise walk in Knowle, Solihull.  It had been raining the night before leaving some puddles on the path.  I bent down and dipped my iPhone into the puddle and got this reflection of the trees in front of me illuminated by the Sunrise. 

If you click on this link you are taken to the BBC England site where my picture is included for pictures taken from 30th March to 5th April