I recently visited an exhibition at The Hunt Museum in Limerick entitled, Father Browne’s First World War. The exhibition features selected images depicting army life and the hardship of the trenches during the First World War.
Father Browne’s introduction to photography was in 1897, when his uncle Robert, Bishop of Cloyne gave him a camera and sent him on a tour around Europe. The photographs from that journey showed great promise. He is probably best known for his photographs taken on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912. His ticket was another gift from his uncle. Lucky for Browne, his Provincial ordered him off the ship at Queenstown (now Cobh), County Cork. The 80 photographs he took on board the Titanic were of huge interest across the world. Kodak went as far as offering him free film for life.
Father Browne joined the British Army in 1916 and spent much of the war with the Irish Guards ministering to the troops at the Somme, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens, and Arras. Father Browne was wounded five times, but was so determined to stay with his men, that each time he returned to the war as soon as allowed by his senior officers. Father Browne was the most decorated chaplain of the First World War.
By the time he died in 1960, Father Browne’s photography had fallen into obscurity. Father Edward O’Donnell came across a collection of some 42,000 negatives in a trunk in 1986. Over half the negatives had experienced varying levels of deterioration, but much of the collection was saved and copied by David Davison and his son Edwin.
While I’m not exactly a First World War buff, I do on occasion watch documentaries and read on the subject, and I’ve visited Ypres and Paschendale. Overall, I found the exhibition to be well presented with a good mix of images, covering everything from the routine of life in the trenches to shelling and going over the top. Father Browne’s images are for the most part well balanced compositions. His talent can be seen in the manner by which he occasionally upsets his composition’s equilibrium in favour of tension, when a timely opportunity and appropriate subject presented.
Davison, D. (2015) FatherBrowne.com [online], available: http://www.fatherbrowne.com [accessed 28 Jul 2015].