One of my favorite news sources is InFocus from Atlantic Magazine. Today, I saw that they’re doing a series on photos of the World War One. The first World War (or the Great War as most Europeans call it) is actually a lot more important than many people realize. If it hadn’t been for Europe fighting itself into near-exhaustion from 1914 – 1917, then the second World War and the aftermath of it would have looked much, much different.
What I find most fascinating, though, about WWI is that it was really the first war to be photographed. Yes, there were photographers in the American Civil War and in the minor (compared to the later wars in the 20th century) wars of the latter half of the 1800s (Franco-Prussia, Spanish-American, etc). Photography was really beginning to come into its own in the early years of the 20th century and many people took for granted that cameras and photography would become rather widespread — albeit their vision of photography of the future bears almost as much resemblance to reality as the vision of life in 2015 will look like what Back to the Future II predicted. Still, looking at these photos of soldiers from WWI, it’s funny how much they look like soldiers today. Yes, the uniforms are different but any of these fellows, with a change of clothes, could fit in quite comfortably among their peers a century later. The postures, the behaviors, even the hairstyles wouldn’t be considered outlandish in this day and age.
Also, it’s interesting to see just how comfortable in front of the lens these men have become. Early portrait photography generally involved people looking stern and uncomfortable (somewhat due to the fact they had to sit or stand so still for ten to fifteen minutes for the photo to be taken). However, by the 1910s, people were comfortable enough with photography and it was no longer a rare, once-in-a-lifetime kind of event. Cameras had also become a good bit more mobile (though nothing like as mobile as they are today) and rugged so that they could be carried to the front lines and the trenches and used to capture the day-to-day nitty-gritty horrors of war.
What is your favorite era of photographic history? Let us know in the comments below!
– da Bird