The tragedy of the First World War through the eyes of its photographers

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Many countries have decided to impose very strict regulations on the press in order to limit, or even completely prevent, the circulation of negative accounts. Lord Kitchener, Britain’s Secretary of War, ensured that control over correspondents was so tight that photojournalist Jimmy Hare reported that “even taking a snapshot without official permission in writing means arrest”. Similarly, the Italian Army created various photographic teams whose task was to record military operations – for historical purposes only – and an official press office that controlled all aspects of photographic production and distribution. .

The images that were created under these restrictions attempted to hide the tragedy of wartime death. Fallen soldiers were frequently depicted in a patriotic light intended to celebrate a man’s sacrifice for the good of the nation. Similarly, life in the trenches glorified the camaraderie of soldiers: the time spent between sentry duty, writing letters home, or preparing meals. Yet these regulations ignored the fact that, thanks to new lightweight and portable cameras, officers and soldiers were also taking pictures. British magazines like Illustrated war stories and The daily mirror encourages soldiers to submit their images and offers prizes for the best.

The number of photographs taken during the war is overwhelming, but the majority of photographers remain unknown. Those who emerged from anonymity, such as the Briton Ernest Brooks (1876-1957) and the Canadian William Rider Rider (1889-1979), produced good, if somewhat monotonous photographs. Brooks was the only official photographer to cover the Battle of the Somme (1916) and Britain’s oldest war photographer. His background as a professional photographer is evident in his work. The images created by Brooks are well composed, technically advanced and characterized by the use of a dramatic silhouette. His most famous shot is probably Troops moving at Eventide, men of a Yorkshire regiment on the march.

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