Amateur Unconcern
A Photo-Literary Fantasia


2014-18 marks the centenary of the First World War.The commemorative avalanche of the tragic and unnecessary conflict continues worldwide.

Departing from the ‘bellicose mood’, The Photocaptionist presents Amateur Unconcern: A Photo-Literary Fantasia. Performed in five acts, this theatrical photo-fiction explores notions of frivolity, privilege, moralism and political disengagement of cultured, leisured Europe just before, during and immediately after the Great War.

Excerpts from George Bernard Shaw’s play Heartbreak House (1919) are enacted against sound and clips selected from Aleksandr Sokurov’s film adaptation, Mournful Unconcern (1983-1987). Shaw’s play and Sokurov’s film describe the ‘moral vacuum’ of the upper and middle classes towards WW1 and its consequences. As the war rumbles, the characters languidly refuse to interrupt their privileged normality.

This literary framework sets the stage for an irreverent performance of amateur photographs of leisure and relaxation, made between 1913 and 1919, and selected from the private collections of the Archive of Modern Conflict.

In the autochromes and photo albums of these early 20th century European amateurs we can identify moments of seeming unconcern in their lives and in the lives of their subjects. Photography is, in this instance, as fragile as the glass plates it is carried on; a precarious provider of tangible evidence for those intangible aspects of life; states of mind and feelings.

As ever photography only reveals a partial story. It would be problematic to accuse these photographers of absolute indifference, as we ignore what they had been up to before and after the images were taken. In a way, their unconcern, like their photography, can only be described as naïve, amateur.

Amateur Unconcern is presented as an online exhibition for FORMAT Festival 2015.

Portrait of George Bernard Shaw, Gelatin Silver Print – AMC 13340.

Truth telling is not compatible with the defence of the realm.

George Bernard Shaw, ‘How War Muzzles the Dramatic Poet’, Heartbreak House, June 1919

Amateur Unconcern: A Photo-Literary Fantasia. By the Photocaptionist

Composition begun 16 June 2014. (The Photocaptionist stated on several occasions that the project was begun before the First World War centenary, but all surviving evidence contradicts this.) First censored in Budapest, in August 2014.

Characters - Words (in order of appearance):

  • George Bernard Shaw – The author. Although essentially shy, he created the persona of G.B.S., the showman, satirist, controversialist, critic, pundit, wit, intellectual buffoon and dramatist.
  • Captain Shotover – A wild-looking old man, almost supernatural, the father of Mrs Hushabye and Lady Utterwood; they say he sold himself to the devil in Zanzibar before he was a captain.
  • Lady Utterwood (ARIADNE) - Captain Shotover’s daughter, who returns home after twenty-three years with her ‘numskull of a husband’.
  • Nurse Guinness – The womanservant of Heartbreak House, spoilt and impossible, the old nurse of Captain Shotover’s daughters.
  • Mazzini Dunn – As poor as a church mouse, he wants his daughter Ellie to marry Alfred ‘Boss’ Mangan for money.
  • Ellie Dunn – Mazzini’s daughter, attractive and young, she wants to get married for money, not love.
  • Mrs Hushabye (Hesione) – Captain Shotover’s older daughter, she lives with her Papa in Heartbreak House and is married with a very handsome liar.
  • Hector Hushabye – A very handsome man with mousquetaire moustaches, quite dandified; very few young women can resist him. He is the husband of Hesione.
  • Randall Utterwood – Or rather Sir Hastings Utterwood, who has been governor of all the crown colonies in succession and is the husband of Ariadne.
  • Alfred ‘Boss’ Mangan – With a mistrustful expression, he features so entirely commonplace that it is impossible to describe him. But he is presumed to be disgustingly rich and Ellie wants to marry him.

Characters – Images (in order of appearance):

  • Edwardian English Amateur Photographer
  • Monsieur Chiquet, French Rabbit & Pheasant Hunter & Amateur Photographer
  • Young Woman in a Pink Dress with Roses
  • Frank H. Melland & Edward H. Chomeley
  • Unidentified French Autochromist

Period – August

  • ACT I – Edwardian England – Paget Colour Slides, 1913 – AMC 3586 & 3587
  • ACT II – Rabbit & Pheasant Hunting in France – Six photo albums, 1912-1919 - AMC 12053
  • ACT III – Study of a Young Woman in a Pink Dress with Roses – Autochrome, 1915 – AMC 9864
  • ACT IV – Through the Heart of Africa – Two pages cut out from a photo album – AMC 10558
  • ACT V – Bois de Vincennes, Paris – Stereoscopic autochromes, 1915-1918 – AMC 6593