Reading Between the Lines

Reading Between the Lines is a body of work made in response to the archive of Clarice Alberta Spratling. A young woman who volunteered in 1915 as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Nurse and was posted to France where she served for the duration of WW1.
Click the images below to see them at full size.

About this project

Clarice Alberta Spratling

Read an essay about this work on the V&A website

In April 2008 I began transcribing a diary that was written by my Great Aunt, Clarice Spratling in 1915/16. Clarice was, at the time of writing the diary, stationed in France and serving as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Nurse. As I read the diary I was reminded of some images I had seen years earlier in an old suitcase of photos that I had rescued when my Mother was having a clear out after my Father’s death. She had put the suitcase to one side to be taken to the tip. I took the suitcase home and put it away with the intention of going through it one day. There amongst the many old photos I found images that were taken at the time of the diary – of nurses in hospital wards and army hospital camps, military hospital staff – doctors and orderlies and images of hospital staff having afternoon tea outside the camps. Along with these photographs was a notebook, dated 1908 and used by Clarice to write down recipes, crochet and knitted lace patterns and old remedies for ailments.

What began as a seemingly simple exercise to make a record of her diary in case it was somehow destroyed has since become the focus of my creative output.

I was intrigued by the photographs, they depicted scenes of order and calm, of relaxed people taking tea – and yet the words in Clarice’s diary were at odds with these images.

Sept 30th 1915
‘Wounded continually coming in. When were full sometimes passages were crowded’

Nov 6th 1915
‘Nobody knows anything definite but that we are moving. V.A.D’s are very anxious – wonder where we shall land.’

Dec 21st 1915
‘Gas boy died’

Jan 2nd 1916
‘Men had eyes removed’

Prior to the war Clarice came from a wealthy, middle class family. To be thrust from her world of lace patterns and recipes to first world war France must have been a tremendous shock – and yet she writes in her diary in a very matter of fact way, with very little emotion. Probably a result of her upbringing and the social etiquette of the period –propriety dictating no outward shows of emotion and relationships kept very formal in public.

All this deceipt disguised in a series of photographs and a diary written nearly 100 years ago.

I began researching the origins of lace and discovered that the root of the word lace is the Latin word laqueus (noose) which is related to the word lacere (to lure or deceive). Thus the idea for the lace prints began. Taking phrases from Clarice’s diary i began exploring ideas of deceipt and propaganda; overlaying and reversing words from her diary to produce images that at first glance resemble beautiful pieces of fine lace, but on closer inspection reveal their true content.

Clarice’s archive has become a part of my own memory and experiences. Although i never actually knew her, she died in 1941, i feel i have a strong sense of knowing her.

The series of photographic works use photographs and documents from the archive to explore ideas of memory and recollection. Using a technique of exposing different images over each other at different times to produce works that suggest recollections, half remembered, some almost forgotten and of untold secrets.

Believed to be Rawal Pindi Hospital Wimereux, France

Outside Rawal Pindi?

Christmas Day 1915

Believed to be in the grounds of No. 13 General – The Casino

Believed to be in the grounds of No. 13 General – The Casino

Believed to be in the grounds of No. 13 General – The Casino

Clarice and her two friends Peck and Buckett ( Millie?)

Clarice and friends