1914 Soldier Saying Goodbye to his Mother has become one of my favourites for all the things I don’t know about it. It remains a puzzle that I would like to solve. The style of this photo is not typical of Foote and it is that very difference that drew me to it in the archives. It was the composition that focuses the viewer’s attention on the figures and highlights the face of the woman within the embrace that struck me initially. After learning that Foote worked for a short time in Hollywood doing film stills and publicity shots I realized that that is why I wanted to learn more. This is photo was staged but it looks as though it was personal. There was more going on underneath the surface that made me come back.
In the archives the label on the photograph reads Soldier in Embrace. The card catalog reads 1914 soldier saying goodbye to his mother. Which is the correct title? Perhaps a better question to ask is: Is there a correct title? Imposed categorizations on photographs often shift the intended meaning and present very different images of wartime Winnipeg. A soldier in embrace explains what he is doing but not the significance of the photograph. Soldier saying goodbye to his mother elicits a far different response from a viewer. It has become personal rather than a normalized stock shot. Appealing to the personal can be the most effective means of advertising. The identity of the woman and soldier are unknown they therefore have the ability to appeal to a wide audience, which would have been essential during the ever present fundraising drives of the First World War. The fact that the soldier is dressed in full highland regalia cemented the fact for me that this photo was meant as an advertisement or recruitment photo. Foote was a technical wonder but he was a master at using visual communication to express what was going on at the time. This photo quickly and effortlessly appeals to Winnipeggers' British roots and commonwealth identity at the outbreak of the war.
The ability of photography to act as propaganda is well established but I was so excited to see it in a Winnipeg context! The magic of the archives for all students and researchers is the puzzles that await for you to solve them. I am glad that there is such a wealth of photographs to study, confuse and ultimately challenge me within the Foote fond and tell me more about Winnipeg than I ever knew before.
- Danna Slessor-Cobb
* * *
Danna Slessor-Cobb is (almost!) finished the first year of an MA in Archival Studies at the University of Manitoba. She is pursuing a thesis in Photographic archives with a focus on curatorial standards and education. Slessor-Cobb has an undergraduate degree in history and art history and has been involved in art and art education in Winnipeg for the past 10 years.