Next month photographer Ian Beesley and poet Ian McMillan host Magic Lantern Tales, a one-off evening of storytelling, poetry and photography, within the impressive surroundings of IWM North (part of Imperial War Museums, in Manchester). This unusual project caught our eye so we asked Ian Beesley to tell us a little bit more about it.
What is Magic Lantern Tales?
Using a genuine antique magic lantern projector, we take you on a journey, showing original photography and vintage slides with live poetry from Ian McMillan, to bring extraordinary stories to life. This one off after-hours event at IWM North looks at individuals who survived the First World War and lived on to old age in a changing world.
Where did the original concept for Magic Lantern Tales come from?
In 1994 I was the artist in residence at the Moor Psychiatric Hospital in Lancaster, where the majority of patients suffered from senile dementia or Alzheimer’s. I came across a drawer full of glasses and another full of photographs. Some patients had been in the hospital for decades and for those who had died with no living relatives, their last few possessions were placed carefully into these drawers. Many of the photographs were related to the First World War, soldiers in uniform, family gatherings, weddings with the grooms in uniform. These glasses were the glasses they must have used to look at their fading photographs, perhaps to attempt to pull back some fading memory. Two simple wooden drawers containing a visual eulogy to forgotten lives. This experience prompted me to photograph and interview men and women who had experienced the First World War before it was too late.
Your own grandfather, Sidney Kimm, served during the First World War. Did this project have any special meaning to you in terms of keeping the memory of others alive through your photographs?
My grandfather was posted to the Somme in France and saw one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. He was invalided out of the Army and ran a small sweet shop in Bradford until 1952. Magic Lantern Tales is about preserving and remembering those who served during the First World War but who went on to have lives after the war and live on to a ripe old age many of them perhaps thought they might never see.
Magic Lantern Tales delves into many individual’s stories. How important is it that we understand conflict through these personal threads rather than facts and figures?
The show will take place in IWM North’s iconic building, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind to represent a globe shattered by conflict. However IWM North is all about telling the personal stories of those who have experienced conflict from WW1 to the present day and that’s exactly what the project was about – reminding us that war is made by people who each have their own narrative of what happened.
Magic Lantern Tales, Wednesday 11 November, 7.30pm, IWM North, M17 1TZ.
Tickets cost £12 /£10 concession and are on sale from quaytickets.com or from the Admissions Desk at IWM North. (Recommended for ages 16+)
- Harold Hayward, pictured here aged 101, went over the top three times in the Battle of the Somme. Harold was captured at Passchendaele and interned in a prisoner of war camp. He returned to live in Preston, he was an avid reader and visited his local library 3 to 4 times a week. ©Ian Beesley
- The poignant drawer full of photographs Ian Beesley first discovered while artist in residence at Moor Psychiatric Hospital in Lancaster in the 1990’s. ©Ian Beesley