Amateur photography at the Western Front

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The First World War was the first war in which photography played a major role. Photos were published in newspapers and magazines and depicted the course of the war. Censorship played an important role, because the displayed photos were not allowed to undermine the morale of the population in any way.


It remains unknown how many soldiers had a camera and captured war scenes. The large numbers of photos and stereoviews that were published after the war by commercial publishers prove that they must be huge numbers. It is clear that photography had become accessible to a large group of amateurs at the beginning of the conflict. Compact and affordable cameras like Jules Richard’s Glyphoscope easily fit into a soldier’s backpack, but it were mostly the officers who could afford a camera.

During the war, Photo-Plait focused especially on the soldiers at the front with the Vest Pocket Kodak camera. It was a foldable camera that used roll film and was easy to carry. The slogan was “Le Kodak du Soldat”.

Photo-Plait catalog from 1916
Photo-Plait catalog from 1916

It was forbidden by law for soldiers to possess a camera in the front line, without proper authorization. This law was intended to prevent espionage and bypass censorship. However, reality was different.


Le Miroir first appears in 1910 as a richly illustrated supplement to Le Petit Parisien. It had been published as an independent weekly magazine from 1912. The images consist mainly of illustrations and reproductions of photographs. The magazine has its largest circulation, with one million copies, at the end of the war. The editions are thinner because of paper ration, but are completely devoted to the war. Le Miroir shows a one-sided and chauvinistic image of the war and is an important propaganda paper. The magazine is constantly looking for sensational images that can boost sales. It mainly focuses on soldiers at the front who are in possession of a camera and who manage to bypass censorship. Later in the war, the subtitle of the magazine is [1]:


Le Miroir paie n’importe quel prix les documents photographiques relatifs à la guerre, présentant un intérêt particulier.

(The Mirror pays any price for photographic documents relating to the war, presenting a particular interest.)


It also organizes a competition for the “most appealing picture” with a grand prize of 30,000 francs.

Cover of Le Mirroir of September 3, 1916
Cover of Le Mirroir of September 3, 1916

References

  1. Le Mirror, 1916
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