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Photographers Of First World War Capture Chaos Front And Center

By Michelle Bird on July 1st 2014


Your feet dig themselves into the muddy trenches of European land, a battlefield rises around you, and all the sounds gathered are machine guns, airplanes, and tanks. Poisonous gas lurks just behind, your fellow soldier has just been shot – that could’ve been you, but wait, you have to change the film!

While other soldiers were shooting each other with guns, photojournalists were shooting them with a lens. The First World War left millions dead, and it was up to these photographers to be front and center in the attacks documenting combat.


[REWIND: Then and Now, Remembering D-Day And What The Normandy Coastline Looks Like 70 Years Later]

During the Crimean War in the 1850s and the Civil War in the 1860s, photography was barely starting out, long exposures, and plates that had to be developed in mobile darkrooms were the norm. Photographers carried around large and bulky cameras, that were mainly used for landscape shots, and if people were to be photographed they had to be posed. These photographers were forced to either take pictures before or after the battles, as documenting combat was a hard task to cover.

By World War I, cameras had come a long way, they were smaller, and film gave photographers the ability to move quickly and work with light variations. For the first time, photographers were able to get close enough to the chaos in the battlefield. The camera of choice carried by soldiers was the Vest Pocket Kodak. World War I was “the conflict in which the concept of documentary truth first evolved.”


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CREDIT: Images, Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

[via] The New York Times

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Michelle Bird is a Southern California based freelance photographer and writer, with a strong focus on music, editorial and portrait photography. She is the founder and creative force behind the music+culture online blog Black Vinyl Magazine, and can often be found in the photo-pit shooting the latest concerts in town. She has a strong passion for art, exploring, vintage finds and most of all animals. Connect with her through Email,
Instagram , or Facebook

Q&A Discussions

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    i can only imagine what it was for them when those shots were taken ……it shows the struggles of war and makes one appreciate peace

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  2. Greg Faulkner

    This is such compelling imagery. Makes me ashamed to think I’ve complained about my feet hurting after getting back from a 12 hour wedding job.

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  3. Servando Miramontes

    Incredibly powerful stuff… I can’t imagine maintaining my bearing and capturing photos during a firefight without wanting to pick up a rifle and return fire… Fearless

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  4. Jared Stewart

    Wow. Great article.

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  5. Steve Enoch

    Wow, I can’t imaging how difficult it must have been to get some of these shots. Hats off the the photographers for capturing images that help us remember such an important part of our history. Wars are things we never want to forget. These images help us remember the cost and toll these wars took on humanity. So important to remember.

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  6. Terry Retherford


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  7. Mark Mirandilla

    challenging shots…

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