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I have been fascinated by World War I since I was a little boy, when I found a yellowing picture book about the war that had belonged to my grandfather. While my grandfather was too old to be sent overseas, he was a proud member of the Maryland National Guard in 1917 and ’18. I have a portrait of him in his high-collared lieutenant’s uniform and campaign hat. It was his unwitting influence that has piqued my long-time interest in the war.
As a child, I was taken by the pictures of the old airplanes and tanks, the quaint uniforms and horse-drawn artillery, and I got a thrill of horror looking at the images of no man’s land strewn with corpses and skeletons. When I got older and read more about the history of the war, I came to realize that the world in which we live was largely formed by that conflict and its aftermath. Even though the war ended in 1918, we’re still dealing with the reverberations from it: the empires that were shattered, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, global instability, the U.S. coming to prominence by tipping the scale in favor of the Allies, and the cataclysm of World War II — the “second round” of that initial four-year bloodbath .
At the start of the centennial of the war in 2014, I began to photograph groups of re-enactors in New York and Pennsylvania. I also traveled to battle sites in France and Israel: to Verdun, the scene of some of the worst carnage in Europe, and to Beersheva, where the British and their allies kicked off the successful campaign to push the Ottoman Turks out of the Middle East. More recently, I’ve been photographing the monuments in New York City that were erected to commemorate the war, to show how they fit into the 21st century urban landscape.
Today, the First World War is largely forgotten; overshadowed by the Second and the conflicts that have followed it. My images are an attempt to capture some of the distant echoes of “The War to End All Wars” and its persistence into the 21st century.