New pictorial book captures futility and cost of war



Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

A  Nova Scotia photographer who captured images of Europe’s most famous battle sites wants her work to be a permanent reminder of the horrific human cost of war.

Justine Macdonald, a self-described military brat, says the inspiration and vision for her newly released pictorial book Remembrance Road: A Canadian Photographer’s Journey
Through European Battlefields
draws heavily from growing up on Canadian Forces bases in the 1980s.

“Not every military child develops an interest in military history, but I did. I think my interest in history in general and my love of travel mixed with my family background led me to this point,” says the 40-year-old resident of Annapolis Valley. “A better photographer now than when I visited these sites with my family as a young adult, I wanted to return and re-photograph them – to try and do the sites justice and share the experience with those who are unable to make the journey themselves.”

Her parents met in Cyprus in the early 1970s while her father, Stephen MacDonald, was part of the Canadian Army’s United Nations Peacekeeping mission, and her mother Moira was a Leading Aircraft Woman with the Women’s Royal Air Force.

When they married and returned to Canada her father transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force working as a flight engineer before eventually retiring as a Sergeant at CFB Greenwood in 2002.  Prior to that, the family lived on military bases in Cold Lake, where Justine was born, Winnipeg, and Geilenkirchen, Germany.

Though never a member of the military herself, MacDonald had a front-row view of life on military bases at the end of the Cold War. She says those experiences had a lasting impact and spurred her interest in travel, writing and photography.

“It piqued my interest and I never would have had this experience if my father was not posted to Germany,” she says. “When I was young, we observed Remembrance Day in a Commonwealth Graves Cemetery and attended the Nijmegen March [in Holland], and I think that was the start of it.”

Remembrance Road is based on MacDonald’s tours of battle sites, cemeteries and monuments in Western Europe in 2001 and 2017. It features a combination of black and white and colour imagery, and short essays organized chronologically.

She began as hobbyist photographer, but after years of experimentation she learned to use her camera to create photographic art with each image offering a deeper message.

She references an image taken at Tyne Cot military cemetery near Ypres, Belgium, in 2017 entitled Countless

“The photo is filled with headstones from corner to corner as if they go on forever. The headstones in the first few rows of the photograph are nameless, blank, as just a small portion of the bodies buried in that cemetery were ever identified. Out of all the images this one I feel best represents the First World War for me.”

Other favourites include Ghosts of Flanders shot in black and white in 2017 at a cloth market in Ypres, Belgium, that was destroyed during the war and now houses the Flanders Museum. The symmetry of the bricks and arching architecture enhance the contrast of a narrow corridor in the centre of the photo that features a ghost-like figure off in the distance.

Trench Warfare was shot in colour and is more direct and in your face. It depicts a muddy, flooded out trench that has been preserved at Sanctuary Wood Museum. Macdonald says it drives home the point about the terrible living conditions and harsh weather conditions soldiers faced.

She became fully focussed on photography about 10 years ago and advanced her skills through practice, YouTube videos and attending photography workshops in Nicaragua (2014), Turkey (2015), Morocco (2015) and Jordan in November (2018).

To pay for her hobby she has two jobs: an administrative assistant at Nova Scotia Community College and a file clerk the Victorian Order of Nurses.

“People have found the photographs striking and educational, giving them a unique perspective on what they may have only seen through text books,” says MacDonald. “I’m glad to be able to offer more context.”

Remembrance Road is published by SSP Publications, a small Halifax-based publisher, and is available for purchase at and in Indigo, Chapters and Coles locations.

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