Ypres, War and Reconstruction
The First World War transformed the idyllic region of the Belgian Westhoek into a desolate lunar landscape. After the steel storm of this industrial war, dozens of villages and towns along the front line had been wiped off the map completely. Of the medieval city of Ypres, only ruins remained; the landscape around it was dotted with shell holes, mine craters, trenches, bunkers, narrow-gauge railways, barbed wire, war scrap and piles of undetonated ammunition. The discussion about the fate of Ypres – should the city remain a ruin commemorating British sacrifices or be returned to its inhabitants? – dragged on for a long time and made it impossible to start rebuilding before 1920.
Robert and Maurice Antony documented the destruction and reconstruction of Ypres and its surroundings in their photographs: the clearing of battlefields, the provisional cemeteries, the return of the inhabitants, the emergency housing, front tourism, the reconstruction of towns and villages, the many commemorative ceremonies and the inauguration of cemeteries and monuments. Although the Antony brothers’ photos were often intended to be sold as souvenirs or picture postcards, they exhibit an exceptional artistic quality and are of inestimable documentary value.