Posts Tagged ‘photography

Colour Photos Of World War I

- July 21st, 2014

Reims-1917

A child with her doll in the besieged French city of Reims, 1917.

 

Today — July 28, 2014 — marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.

July 28, 1914 was not just in another century: It was in another world, another universe, a lost universe smashed and obliterated by the Great War, then salvaged and re-invented and smashed and obliterated again and again by the events of the 20th Century.

Yet it really wasn’t that long ago. A century is a mere blink of the eye in the grand scheme of things.

Hundreds of thousands of people are alive today who were born before World War I began (as many as 500,000 by some estimates, although exact numbers are impossible to determine).

So it’s a war that is literally within living memory. And many of the flash points that triggered that war are still swirling around in the background of most of today’s crises in Europe and the Middle East.

Gott-strafe-England-1917

Wall graffiti on a French wall, reclaimed by the Allies in 1917 after having been occupied by the Germans. “Gott strafe England” — God strike (or punish) England — was a common cry in Germany during the war, often a mass shout at military gatherings and movie showings and even substituting on occasion for mealtime graces.

 

Yet it seems so long ago, so far away, so disconnected from the world we live in now. Part of that has to do with the way we see the world, experience the world now. The technological advances of that intervening century are astounding — beyond any possible rational belief for anyone who was an adult on July 28, 1914.

Movies were in their infancy then, still black and white, silent and jerky, and the first transcontinental telephone call in the U.S. had only been accomplished the year before war broke out (Canada’s first transcontinental telephone call wouldn’t come until years after the war ended in 1918). The Panama Canal, which transformed international trade and sewed the eastern and western sides of North America together more closely than even the railways did, opened only a few months before the world went to war.

Now we can fly around the world in less time than it takes a cargo ship to negotiate its way through the Panama Canal. And we can record colour movies with our mobile phones, upload the video images and bounce them off a satellite to be picked up by a friend on the other side of the world — in seconds.

So we see and experience a very different world in very different ways now than we did then.

And one of the reasons we now experience that world in such a disconnected way is because almost all of the photos from that time were made in black and white. For eyes accustomed to interpreting what we see as colour images, the jump to black and white — even if we don’t consciously realize it — is alienating.

fr-pissoir-1917

A French pissoir, camouflaged but obviously well behind the front lines, in 1917.

 

TVO is currently running a very good documentary series called Apocalypse: WWI which uses colourized (but originally black and white) film footage to tell the story of the War To End All Wars — and the colourization does make it seem somehow more you-are-there modern. But, like hand-tinted antique photographs whose colours owe as much to imagination as they do to reality, it just doesn’t quite cut it.

Enter the Autochrome photo process.

Although millions of black and white photographs still exist from World War I, people who know about these things say that fewer than 5,000 real colour photographs were made on all the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East during the war — and almost all of them used the Autochrome process.

Crude, complicated colour photography existed as early as the mid-19th Century (only a decade or so after Louis Daguerre gave black and white photography to the world — literally, he renounced patent copyright on the process to make it accessible to everyone).

But the first commercially viable — and successful — colour photographic one-plate process was Autochrome, invented and introduced by French motion-picture pioneers, the Lumiere brothers, in 1907.

Autochrome had some disadvantages — it was very expensive and required long exposure times — but it produced beautiful, vivid, realistic colour one-plate images (if seen in good light). And it was the colour process used almost exclusively by professional photographers in Europe and North America by 1914.

In fact, Autochrome continued to dominate the world of colour photography until Kodak brought out Kodachrome colour film in the mid-1930s.

German-troops-champagne-1914

Above, German troops at a mail depot in Champagne, 1914. Below, French troops before the Battle of the Marne, 1914.

battle-of-the-marne-French-1914

That wonderful, quixotic German publishing house Taschen — which produces some of the most expensive art books in the world but also creates a wide range of beautiful, inexpensive mass-market art, photography, design, culture and erotica books — has just come out with a new book of more than 320 Automchrome photographs to mark the centenary of the start of World War I.

cover-german-edition

The German and English editions of the new Taschen book. The German edition came out first, a month or so ago. I don’t know why they changed the cover photo, but I think I prefer the English-edition cover. The cover photo of the German edition would have been taken about the same time as the earlier photo of French troops at the Battle of the Marne since they are all wearing the bright red pants that were standard French army uniform in 1914. By early 1915 — after months of needlessly high casualties due to the striking visibility of the pants — French troops were issued new all-blue uniforms (that were still more visible than khaki or grey would have been).

cover-Taschen

Most — but not all — of the photos I will show you here are included in that book. Almost all of the photos here are also Autochrome, but two or three aren’t. Unfortunately I don’t remember which two or three aren’t or I would tell you or just eliminate them from this particular collection. So blame my collecting sloppiness but enjoy (if that’s the right word, perhaps “appreciate” would be better) the photos for what they are. Remember, the Autochrome process needed very long exposure times, so you’ll find usually static subject matter chosen. The photos still give you a sense of immediacy and contact that is often missing from similar black and white shots.

The photos are generally from national archives and have been made increasingly available over the past decade, with several exhibits staged in Europe in recent years. Taschen has chosen what they consider the best of the best for their collection. Here’s a link to a private website where you can find some others not included in the Taschen book.

As I said, the Autochrome process was used by professional photographers everywhere, so the images here come from French (Jules Gervais-Courtellemont, Paul Castelnau, Leon Gimpel, Fernand Cuville, Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud) and German (Hans Hildenbrand) and American (Charles Zoller) and even Australian (Frank Hurley) photographers.

french-photographer-Reims-1917

A French photographer looks for a place to set up his camera in the shattered city of Reims, 1917.

German-troops-Berlin-1914

German artillerymen parade through Berlin, 1914.  By the following year, the spiked helmets you see here — designed to deflect sabre slashes from mounted cavalry in the previous century — were no longer being issued for combat purposes but were still being worn for some ceremonial occasions.

German-trenches-1916

Above, German trenches in northern France in 1916. Below, French trenches in the same sector, also in 1916. Note the similar flowers growing on the sides of both trenches. Are they poppies? 

French-trenches-1916

Austrian-soldier-Eastern-Front-1915

Above, an Austrian soldier on the Eastern Front, 1915, and below, French troops on the Western Front, 1917.

French-troops-N-France-1917

french-and-Belgian-troops-in-trench-1917

Above, French and Belgian troops in the trenches, 1917. Below, Canadian sappers with one French soldier, 1917.

Canadian-sappers-and-one-French-soldier-N-France-1917

Western-Front-1916

Above, the Western Front in 1916, and below, in 1917.

N-france-battlefield-1917

no-mans-land-seen-from-French-observ-post-1917

Above, No Man’s Land seen from a French observation post, 1917. Below, another battlefield in Northern France, 1917.

N-france-1917

fr-haircut-at-the-front-1917

Above, French soldiers getting haircuts at the front. Below, Russian soldiers fighting with the French on the Western Front, 1917.

Russian-soldiers-in-Reims-1917

austrian-pow-in-Russia-1915

Above, Austrian prisoners of war in Russia, 1915. Below, Scottish prisoners in Germany.

scottish-POWs-in-Germany

French-field-hospital

Above, a French field hospital. Below, a British ambulance.

British-amblulance-1914

Camel-ambulances-Palestine-1918

Above, camel ambulances in Palestine, 1918. Below, the Australian Light Horse Brigade in Palestine, 1917.

Australian-lighthorse-brigade-palestine-1917-frank-hurley

 

algerian-spahis-N-France-1917

Above, Algerian spahis in northern France, 1917. Below, a soldier from French Indochina in northern France.

french-soldier-from-indo-china

Senegalese-artilleryman-1917

Above, a Senegalese artilleryman. Below, a French army chaplain.

french-army-chaplain

 

french-and-belgian-military-gendarmes-1917

Above, Belgian and French military policemen. Below, French sailors.

french-sailors

French-biplane-Caudron-G3-1914

Above, a French Caudron G3 biplane, 1914. Below, the French airship Alsace, shot down behind German lines in 1915. The airship’s crew survived but were taken prisoner.

French-airship-Alsace-shot-down-near-Rethel-3Oct1915-crew-taken-prisoner

Verdun-1916

Above, Verdun, 1916. Below, Reims, 1917.

Reims

Captured-British-tank-with-German-markings-destroyed-1918

A destroyed German tank, 1918. The tank is actually British, but captured by the Germans and given new markings. Most of the tanks operated by the German army were captured equipment. The German high command was late in accepting the tank’s value and, as a result, produced fewer than two dozen tanks of German design before the war ended. 

Arc-de-Triumphe-victory-celebration-14Juli1919

Arc de Triomphe victory celebration in Paris, 1919.

 

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Abraham Lincoln’s Beard

- April 13th, 2011

With this week marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, I´m going to take a few excursions down that road in coming days because what we now think happened back then is not necessarily what really happened.

Just for starters, let´s take a look at Civil War President Abraham Lincoln´s beard.

Here´s the standard image we have of Lincoln, a portrait made by photographer Alexander Gardner in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 8, 1863.

456px-Abraham_Lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portrait

Lincoln is showing the wear and worry of more than two years of civil war at this point, but this is the historic  Lincoln we know, chin whiskers and all.

But this is not the Abraham Lincoln that the upstart Republican Party nominated for president in May 1860 and that the American people (well, 40% of the ones who were able to vote) elected president in November 1860.

That Lincoln was a very different man. Here´s a picture of the guy who was elected president.

 Abraham-Lincoln-Helser-Portrait-1860

Quite a difference, eh?

As a friend of mine says, the clean-shaven Lincoln looks “fragile.” I think he looks quite handsome without the beard, in a gawky, stringbean sort of way.  And there´s a sensual quality to the face you don´t see with the chin whiskers.

Maybe this is the photo Marilyn Monroe was thinking of when she called Abe Lincoln “the sexiest man in American history.”

That particular portrait was made by Chicago photographer Alexander Hesler on June 3, 1860, at Lincoln´s home in Springfield, Illinois, shortly after Lincoln won the Republication presidential nomination over such frontrunners and party stalwarts as William Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Simon Cameron — all rivals that Lincoln would put in his first cabinet a few months later.

And here´s a slightly earlier photo, one that Lincoln himself said helped make him president.

lincoln_1861_portra_748814s

The photo was taken on Feb. 27, 1860, in New York City on the day that Lincoln made a speech that propelled him from regional Illinois politician to the front ranks of the national Republican Party and the anti-slavery movement in general.

It was a speech months in the planning and it was delivered to a crowd of about 1,500 politically influential New Yorkers at the Cooper Institute. Lincoln wowed the house with a brilliant, rivetting analysis of how the framers of the U.S. Constitution clearly intended that Congress should regulate — and eventually eliminate — slavery in the United States of America.

Lincoln, you see, was a “moderate” Republican not a “radical” (in 1850s terms), in that he was not calling for the immediate abolition of slavery where it already existed: What everyone was after — North and South, slavers and abolitionists, that is (the 4 million Americans held in slavery weren´t asked their opinions) – was control of the vast, sparsely settled (so far) territories west of the Mississippi that the U.S. had gained as prizes in the Mexican-American War of 1848.

The South wanted some, if not all, of the territories to enter the union as slave states. Northern abolitionists were determined that all the territories would gain statehood without the taint of slavery. In between, compromisers kept putting forward plans to allow a nibble of slavery here and a slice of freedom there.

Lincoln was determined that slavery would not be extended to any of the territories and that the central government had the right and responsibility to enforce that. He hoped to see the end of slavery in the whole country some day, but believed it would happen slowly, (relatively) peacably and by a process of attrition.

This was a position hotly disputed by the slave states and a bone of contention for more than a decade between the South and the North.  Throughout the 1850s, compromise after compromise had held the antagonists together, but both sides clearly felt the time for appeasement was over and a real solution had to be found. After the Cooper Institute speech — and its widespread coverage in the many New York daily newspapers of the time — Northern abolitionists felt they had in Lincoln  a true champion with guts, brains and public appeal.

As for the photo, Lincoln was then staying at the Astor House hotel on Broadway. On the afternoon before his evening speech, Lincoln had gone for a walk down Broadway with a couple of friends. At the corner of Broadway and Bleeker Street, Lincoln saw the studio of photographer Mathew Brady and — really on a whim — decided to stop in and have his picture taken.

That´s the photo you see above, one that was widely distributed during the following election.

Brady later admitted he did a little retouching of the photo, smoothing out Abe´s wayward hair and “subtly refin(ing) his features.”

But it did the trick, getting Lincoln´s image out there at a time when presidential candidates did virtually no public campaigning themselves and relied on local and regional allies to carry their message to the voters.

“Brady and the Cooper Institute made me president,” Lincoln was later quoted as saying.

Here´s another, rarely seen photo of Lincoln (possibly by Preston Butler) made in May 1860, just after Lincoln clinched the Republican nomination.  

Lincoln

So why, I ask you, why did a guy who had lived the entire 51 years (so far) of his life without a beard, who had won the nomination of the Republican Party without a beard, and who had won election as president of the United States of America without a beard, why did he suddenly decide to grow a beard in the couple of months between the election on Nov. 6, 1860, and his inaugration on March 4, 1861?

According to Lincoln himself, it was because of a little girl.

On Oct. 15, 1860, 11-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, N.Y. (about 100 km south of Buffalo on Lake Erie), wrote to Lincoln in Springfield:

“Dear Sir

My father has just (come) home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin´s (Lincoln´s vice-presidential running mate). I am a little girl only 11 years old but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont (sic) think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am (sic) if so give them my love and tell her to write me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you (sic) you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to (sic) but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can (sic) I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty (sic) I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is  just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct (it) to Grace Bedell Westfield Chautauque County New York.

I must not write any more answer this letter right off   Good bye.

Grace Bedell”

To which Lincoln responded on Oct. 19, 1860 (and don´t forget this is less than three weeks before the national election that could make him president of the United States):

“My dear little Miss

Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received — I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters — I have three sons — one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age — They, with their mother, constitute my whole family — As to the whiskers, having never worn any,  do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it  now?

Your very sincere well wisher

A. Lincoln”

Friends and poltical supporters had  for years urged Lincoln to grow a beard to hide his long neck and prominent adam´s apple. In his reply to Grace Bedell, Lincoln seemed once again to be rejecting the notion of growing a beard.

But Grace´s appeal hit a nerve somehow and Lincoln began, soon after the election, growing his famous chin whiskers.

How do we know it was Grace that made the difference? Because Lincoln said so — in front of thousands of people.

Although Lincoln did not actively campaign in the runup to the Nov. 6, 1860 election, he made what was essentially a campaign tour in the weeks before his inauguration on March 4, 1861.

Lincoln left Springfield, Illinois, on Feb. 11 in a special train that carried him and a party of supporters east to Washington throughout the northern states that had elected him president.

At every stop for fuel and water, Lincoln was mobbed by wellwishers and gave a rousing speech in which he promised to hold the union together while stopping the spread of slavery. By this time South Carolina and six other states had seceded from the union since Lincoln had won the election — and they had seceded mainly because Lincoln´s victory was seen by many in the South as the last straw in the more-populous North´s attempt to dominate the South and force radical changes to its slave economy and culture.

As the train headed for Buffalo, N.Y. (where Lincoln was almost crushed to death when a crowd of 20,000 supporters went crazy and overwhelmed his small military escort), the president-elect made sure the train would stop at the small Lake Erie town of Westfield on Feb. 19, a week after leaving Springfield.

Here´s what the reporter for the New York World had to say in that evening´s newspaper:

“At Westfield an interesting incident occurred. Shortly after his nomination Mr. Lincoln had received from that place a letter from a little girl, who urged him, as a means of improving his personal appearance, to wear whiskers. Mr. Lincoln at the time replied, stating that although he was obliged by the suggestion, he feared his habits of life were too fixed to admit of even so slight a change as that which letting his beard grow involved. To-day, on reaching the place, he related the incident and said that if that young lady was in the crowd he should be glad to see her. There was a momentary commotion, in the midst of which an old man, struggling through the crowd, approached, leading his daughter, a girl of apparently twelve or thirteen years of age, whom he introduced to Mr. Lincoln as his Westfield correspondent. Mr. Lincoln stooped down and kissed the child, and talked with her for some minutes. Her advice had not been thrown away upon the rugged chieftain. A beard of several months´growth covers (perhaps adorns) the lower part of his face. The young girl´s peachy cheek must have been tickled with a stiff whisker, for the growth of which she was herself responsible.”

And that´s how Abe Lincoln got his Abe Lincoln beard.