The man who shot the great war

A startling collection of previously unseen photographs featured in a new documentary provides a fresh perspective of life and death in the trenches during World War One. Belfast man George Hackney was a keen amateur photographer in the innocent years before the outbreak of war, and when he was sent off to fight in 1915, he took his camera with him.

Unofficial photography was strictly illegal, but this means his snaps have a candid quality that capture the often mundane aspects of life in the trenches, as well as an almost unbearable sense of poignancy as many of these men never made it home.

Hackney himself lived into his late 80s, and his collection was donated to the Ulster Museum before his death in 1977.

However, the photographs sat in the archives unseen by the public, until a curator showed them to a filmmaker. Its director, Brian Henry Martin, says a series of lucky coincidences helped to unlock the secrets of this treasure trove of insight into life and death on the Western Front.

“I was first introduced to these photos in the Ulster Museum’s archive by Dr Vivienne Pollock in 2012 while working on a documentary about the Ulster Covenant, and it immediately raised so many questions,” he says. Mr Martin believes his significance will only continue to grow in stature.  “We eventually tracked down about 300 photographs, but there’s maybe 200 more out there,” he says. “I think in a way, the George Hackney story is only beginning and he will become the definitive photographer of World War One in Ireland.”

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