Nevers 1914

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A collection of 24 glass plate negatives in the format 8 x 18 cm was offered on eBay. The negatives show images of the mobilisation during the First World War in the city of Nevers, France. The slides were offered individually, and I managed to get 21 out of 24. Unfortunately I was outbid on three slides, which is disappointing because such a collection should stay together. Two cardboard boxes with descriptions were also shown, but these were not part of the auction. Afterwards, I contacted the seller and asked if I could buy the boxes, or get a high resolution scan, because I suspected they contained valuable information about the negatives. The seller was kind enough to send the boxes for free because I bought most of the negatives.

The two boxes are numbered 30 and 31, written in Roman style. According to the descriptions on the boxes, the total collection consisted of 34 negatives, of which 4 slides from box 31 were probably not related to the war and were added later. 24 glass plates were offered on eBay, so the collection was no longer complete when it was auctioned. Each negative is numbered, and the number relates to the descriptions on the box. The descriptions contain the subject, place and the exact date, which makes the collection historically significant.

The photos were taken at and around the railway station of Nevers. Nevers is located in the centre of France. It has a large railway station and was a logistically important hub for the French army. POW camps and several hospitals were built in and around Nevers during the conflict, which emphasises the importance of Nevers. The negatives show images of the mobilisation of the French army. Germany had declared war on France on 3 August 1914. The photos of the collection were taken in August and October 1914. The first photo dates from 9 August, so the war was less than a week old for the French. This makes the collection very special because images from the early stages of the conflict are rare. Most images date from the period 1915 to 1918.

In 1914, the war was welcomed by all participating countries, and the horrors of the trenches were still far away. Every country thought it would be victorious, and all soldiers would be back home by Christmas. This sentiment is clearly reflected in the photos. The atmosphere is patriotic and relaxed, with smiling soldiers.

The name of the photographer is unknown, but he might have been a professional photographer. The large 8 x 18 cm negatives required a large expensive camera and the skills to operate it, which is less obvious to an amateur. In addition, all negatives are accurately indexed and preserved, which indicates the work of a professional. More negatives from the same photographer were offered by the seller on eBay. These did not contain images of the war, but were all numbered in the same way.

The photographer was probably from Nevers or the surrounding area, as the photos were taken on different days in August and October. A local photographer could be on site quickly. The photographer was maybe hired by the French army. Most of the photos are staged, which indicates that the photographer had permission to shoot. The First World War was the first major conflict in which photography played an important role. In May 1915, the French army founded its own photography section, La Section Photographie de l’Armée. This unit produced 120,000 photos during the conflict, including 20,000 stereo photos and a large collection of autochrome color images. Before the creation of the SPA, the French Army simply hired professional photographers to capture the mobilisation for documentation or to inform the public by newspapers. This also explains the accurate descriptions on the negatives.

But why did the photographer use a stereo camera? Stereoviews were primarily intended for entertainment and not necessarily for publication in albums or newspapers. Maybe this was the only camera the photographer had, and the size of the negatives made it possible to use half stereos for printing.