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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Photo- cards at the front.


Guest redrum
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Apologies if this has been raised earlier. Who took the photographs of the individual soldier at or near the front. Was there a kind of travelling photographer who charged the soldier a few pence for taking his picture to post home?

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While I cannot answer for the Allied side I do have references on the German side to individual soldiers carrying cameras as well as organized regimental and division photography studios. The 180th IR had a set up where a photo postcard cost 2.50 Marks and they took photos of the men individually, by platoon, company, battalion, etc. They also took photos of various parts of the rear areas and some of the front. Enemy P.O.W.'s were a common subject.

I have a good selection of cards put out specifically by the 26th reserve Division as well. I was amazed early on at the number of front line photos that were taken in the German trrenches showing great detail including men, equipment, etc. I have one photo of a machine gun where you can read the manufacturer's plate on the gun spring housing.

There are also a large number of shots toward the enemy lines. It would seem that both sides treated taking photos at the front quite differently.

Ralph

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Behind the British front one of the most common photographic companies in operation was Guillemont of Paris. Their cards are all marked up with the company name on the reverse and have a standard postcard back.

I suspect they either sold a franchise to locals to do the work for them or actually did send teams up from Paris; I suspect the latter as such work would be restricted in the British sector. They may even have had semi-exclusive contracts with the British government; I have tried to do some research on this company, but found out little about them.

A typical example of their work below.

I will try and scan the company logo on the reverse.

post-3-1091376521.jpg

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It seems somehow strange that in those terrible conditions troops still put a brave face on things and managed to get a photo and send it home to the folks.A kind of re-assurance for them I suppose as well as trying to put a little bit of normalcy into their lives at the front.

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True, seems that the fact that they had photo taken was for the folks back home was a significant act for them to undertake. It said Im here and Im alive for many, although as often happened they were cut down before it arrved home

John

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I've looked into this very issue as I collect photos of soldiers.

In the past I've researched the history of photography and this relates to what may have been happening at the front lines. Photography only became affordable to the general public around the time of the tintypes in the 1860s, and then even more affordable with the Cartes-de-Visites (CDVS) 1870s. From this time photographers travelled between small communities to set up a studio for a short time so that individuals could get their photos taken. Photographers didn't want to invest in a shop full time in a small community. A similar situation would have existed at the front as locations and front lines shifted, and the photographers may have moved around. In addition, local photographers with pre-war studios may have been able to maintain their business as long as the war didn't reach their town.

Many of my photos seem to have a very temporary look to the studio set. During the height of studio photography in the 1890s the travelling photographers tried to set up some sort of faux background - the appearance of fancy panelling, greenery, etc. It appears that the war photographers in some cases tried to photograph soldiers before a painted stage set with the painting imitating supposed trench conditions. I have one of these photos and I will try to locate it and scan it to display here. Other photographers just made do with what they had and just posed the men in front of the best wall they could find.

In some cases it appears that the men sent the film home for development when they made their own photos. The men also liked to make their own photos when in training or behind the lines. I have a war diary for a soldier in the 33rd Battery Canadian Field Artillery. He details his daily experiences (mostly listing what he ate), but also mentioned that one evening they spent some time "making some snaps". This was at a camp near Witley, England in 1916.

In the photo I'm attaching you can see at the bottom right that the photographer has placed a small card with a number, probably his negative number. You can also see that they appear to be on a cobblestone sidewalk or roadway, but it looks like there is an interior wall behind them. If you look very very carefully you will notice that the wall is just a painted screen and the moulding is painted on.

There is a circa 1970s book by T & V. Holt about WWI in postcards and there is a full section on real photo postcards taken of WWI soldiers. I will check into it and see if I find anything to answer the original post.

P.S. I'm not an expert at badge and uniform identification (well, actually I know very little about that), so if any of the more experienced members have any comments to make on the unit identity in the men from this photo, I would be very happy. I bought it in Toronto last winter, but not everything for sale here is CEF.

post-3-1091495742.jpg

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Here's the photo will a fully painted faux war stage set. This one actually does have full identification on the back as the soldier mailed it home:

To Mrs. Ben Vienot, Upper Cornwall, Lunenberg County, Nova Scotia from Sapper Edward Veinot, #282366, "In Sunny France, Jan. 7, 1918".

post-3-1091458651.jpg

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  • 1 month later...

Although it was a while ago, as promised are the scans of the back of the 'Guillemont' cards.

This one shows the standard design of postcard back used by the company, with the company logo.

post-3-1094240015.jpg

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This is the company details printed on all their cards.

Would be great to think a company archive still survives, but I doubt it.

post-3-1094240109.jpg

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  • 2 weeks later...

Paul

Thank you for the scan of the reverse of your photo. That is exactly what appears on the back of the only photo I have of my father at the Front. Up to now it has been failrly indecipherable.

Regards

Jim Gordon

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