The visual front

How official war photographers portrayed WW1.

The many photographs of World War 1 that survived till today give a visual impression of what this war was like. How fair is this impression? What do these photographs reveal about what the war was really like? This source collection is designed to help answer this question by looking at series of photographs made by official war photographers. Most of the photographs, especially the iconic ones, were made by official war photographers. Both the Allies and Central Powers used war photography as means to influence public opinion in favour of the war effort. The photographs were used in (illustrated war) newspapers and in postcards that were send by the soldiers. The images where carefully selected, scenes where often staged, victories and achievements emphasised whilst uncomfortable or confronting images where avoided.

Acknowledgements: Source collection made by Steven Stegers with the support of Laura Steenbrink. The collection makes use of sources from the Imperial War Museums.

Team work in the factory.

A general view of one of the shops showing men, women and boys being employed at a German aeroplane factory, 2 September 1918. All people in the picture are working with full concentration and dedication to support the war effort. The photo is made by a German official photographer. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 110343)

Team work in the factory.

A general view of one of the shops showing men, women and boys being employed at a German aeroplane factory, 2 September 1918. All people in the picture are working with full concentration and dedication to support the war effort. The photo is made by a German official photographer. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 110343)

An efficient crew.

This photo made by a German photographers, shows German sailors at work in the torpedo room of an U-boat at a unknown date. The images shows a capable crew and well oil machine. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 53047)

An efficient crew.

This photo made by a German photographers, shows German sailors at work in the torpedo room of an U-boat at a unknown date. The images shows a capable crew and well oil machine. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 53047)

Surgery in good conditions.

An operation in the sick bay of the Australian Battle Cruiser Australia. The conditions of the sick bay, with plenty of medical staff, hygienic conditions, and a surgeon who appears to know what he is doing, gives the impressions that the injured of WW1 get nothing but the best treatment. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 18766)

Surgery in good conditions.

An operation in the sick bay of the Australian Battle Cruiser Australia. The conditions of the sick bay, with plenty of medical staff, hygienic conditions, and a surgeon who appears to know what he is doing, gives the impressions that the injured of WW1 get nothing but the best treatment. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 18766)

Our soldiers lives matter.

This photograph, made by a Lieutenant in the British Army (Ernest Brooks) shows British wounded recovering at a (probably US) base hospital at Rouen (France) in June 1917. The men are in good conditions with clean blankets, new hospital beds and even parasols. The soldier look well taken care off. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 2339)

Our soldiers lives matter.

This photograph, made by a Lieutenant in the British Army (Ernest Brooks) shows British wounded recovering at a (probably US) base hospital at Rouen (France) in June 1917. The men are in good conditions with clean blankets, new hospital beds and even parasols. The soldier look well taken care off. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 2339)

Posing in front of the camera

Unidentified French official cameraman of the Section Photographique et Cinematographique d'Armee filming a British casualty in Aveluy Wood (France) on 13 November 1916. This photo makes clear that – as in most of the cases – the person on the photograph is posing for the picture. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 4504)

Posing in front of the camera

Unidentified French official cameraman of the Section Photographique et Cinematographique d'Armee filming a British casualty in Aveluy Wood (France) on 13 November 1916. This photo makes clear that – as in most of the cases – the person on the photograph is posing for the picture. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 4504)

Standing tall despite everything.

Miss Mairi Chisholm, one of the 'Women of Pervyse‘ looking through binoculars in Pervyse, 11 September 1917. The Women of Pervyse (at the Western front line north of Ypres) were two women who volunteered to join a small independent ambulance corps. The two women worked in primitive conditions and only went home to raise funds. They were regularly mentioned in soldiers' diaries, poems and songs, and were given presents too and became war time celebrities. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 3117)

Standing tall despite everything.

Miss Mairi Chisholm, one of the 'Women of Pervyse‘ looking through binoculars in Pervyse, 11 September 1917. The Women of Pervyse (at the Western front line north of Ypres) were two women who volunteered to join a small independent ambulance corps. The two women worked in primitive conditions and only went home to raise funds. They were regularly mentioned in soldiers' diaries, poems and songs, and were given presents too and became war time celebrities. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 3117)

Ready for action

A German machine gun crew, probably of the 18th Infantry Regiment, manning their Maxim machine gun. Photo made by a German official photographer in 1918. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 87923)

Ready for action

A German machine gun crew, probably of the 18th Infantry Regiment, manning their Maxim machine gun. Photo made by a German official photographer in 1918. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 87923)

The army in action.

A patrol of German Hussars crossing a river near the Lake Ohrid on the Macedonian-Albanian border, 1917. Photo made by a German official photographer. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 86552)

The army in action.

A patrol of German Hussars crossing a river near the Lake Ohrid on the Macedonian-Albanian border, 1917. Photo made by a German official photographer. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 86552)

Taking care of civilians.

This photo shows how a French woman is rescued from a house by British soldiers. The photo is taken on 22 November 1917 in Masnieres (France). The rubble in front of the house indicates that the woman was in need of evaluation, and the soldiers are providing support. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 3201)

Taking care of civilians.

This photo shows how a French woman is rescued from a house by British soldiers. The photo is taken on 22 November 1917 in Masnieres (France). The rubble in front of the house indicates that the woman was in need of evaluation, and the soldiers are providing support. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 3201)

Taking care of civilians.

Children of Berlin being served midday soup from a mobile field kitchen (goulaschkanone). Date unknown. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 88190)

Taking care of civilians.

Children of Berlin being served midday soup from a mobile field kitchen (goulaschkanone). Date unknown. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 88190)

Respect for Human Rights

This photograph, made by an British Lieutenant, shows how wounded Turkish prisoners being fed at an Australian hospital at Mudros. The treatment of prisoners of war gives the soldiers, shows the soldiers from a very positive light. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 13774)

Respect for Human Rights

This photograph, made by an British Lieutenant, shows how wounded Turkish prisoners being fed at an Australian hospital at Mudros. The treatment of prisoners of war gives the soldiers, shows the soldiers from a very positive light. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 13774)

A destroyed (enemy) ship

This photo, made by a German photographer shows the H. M. S. (Her Majesty’s Ship) Vindictive sunk as Blockship at Ostend, May 1918. The sight of the destroyed ship gives the impression of (the other party) loosing. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 37742)

A destroyed (enemy) ship

This photo, made by a German photographer shows the H. M. S. (Her Majesty’s Ship) Vindictive sunk as Blockship at Ostend, May 1918. The sight of the destroyed ship gives the impression of (the other party) loosing. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 37742)

Dead enemies.

This images shows three dead German soldiers in the trenches. The image was taken by a British Lieutenant (Ernest Brooks) on 31 July 1917 in the Western Front. Official photographers could take pictures of dead enemies (a sign of winning) but were forbidden to take pictures of dead soldiers from their own regiments (as it would be a sign of losing, and would be bad for morale). (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 3117)

Dead enemies.

This images shows three dead German soldiers in the trenches. The image was taken by a British Lieutenant (Ernest Brooks) on 31 July 1917 in the Western Front. Official photographers could take pictures of dead enemies (a sign of winning) but were forbidden to take pictures of dead soldiers from their own regiments (as it would be a sign of losing, and would be bad for morale). (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 3117)

A captured (enemy) airplane

Men of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade guarding a captured enemy aeroplane at Jenin Aerodrome (Palestine). September 1918. Official photographs of captured military equipment are quite common. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 12345)

A captured (enemy) airplane

Men of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade guarding a captured enemy aeroplane at Jenin Aerodrome (Palestine). September 1918. Official photographs of captured military equipment are quite common. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 12345)

War and art

Ernest Brooks: The night sky is lit up by the bombardment of Beaumont Hamel. 2 July 1916. Portrayed like this the bombing make a beautiful sight that contrasts with the hard realities on the ground. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 751)

War and art

Ernest Brooks: The night sky is lit up by the bombardment of Beaumont Hamel. 2 July 1916. Portrayed like this the bombing make a beautiful sight that contrasts with the hard realities on the ground. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 751)

Kaiser Wilhelm visits the front.

Kaiser Wilhelm II wearing a Turkish Helmet, visits the Dardanelles Forts, 17 October 1917. Images of military leaders meeting or inspecting with troops show that they are on top of things, aware of the conditions in the field and that they care about the troops. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 12345)

Kaiser Wilhelm visits the front.

Kaiser Wilhelm II wearing a Turkish Helmet, visits the Dardanelles Forts, 17 October 1917. Images of military leaders meeting or inspecting with troops show that they are on top of things, aware of the conditions in the field and that they care about the troops. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 12345)

Archduke Joseph August at the front

Archduke Joseph August, the Commander of the Austro-Hungarian Heeresfront Ost, inspecting Austro-Hungarian troops on the Romanian Front, 1917Images of military leaders meeting or inspecting with troops show that they are on top of things, aware of the conditions in the field and that they care about the troops. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 52213)

Archduke Joseph August at the front

Archduke Joseph August, the Commander of the Austro-Hungarian Heeresfront Ost, inspecting Austro-Hungarian troops on the Romanian Front, 1917Images of military leaders meeting or inspecting with troops show that they are on top of things, aware of the conditions in the field and that they care about the troops. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 52213)

Enjoying a swim.

British soldiers are taking a swim near Aveluy Wood (France) in August 2916. This photograph shows that being in the army can also be fun. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 4504)

Enjoying a swim.

British soldiers are taking a swim near Aveluy Wood (France) in August 2916. This photograph shows that being in the army can also be fun. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 4504)

Time for leisure

Leisure and entertainment at the Front. German troops relaxing outside their billet between Lens and Arras (France) in April 1917. Two are amusing themselves with a piano while a third is preparing food. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 48454)

Time for leisure

Leisure and entertainment at the Front. German troops relaxing outside their billet between Lens and Arras (France) in April 1917. Two are amusing themselves with a piano while a third is preparing food. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 48454)

To the front, with a smile…

Cheerful German troops travelling by a motor lorry towards the front line on the Somme in 1916. The photo is made by a German official photographer. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 55197)

To the front, with a smile…

Cheerful German troops travelling by a motor lorry towards the front line on the Somme in 1916. The photo is made by a German official photographer. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 55197)

More than enough weapons in stock.

British soldiers pose around the edge of a large collection of (bomb) shells. The almost endless number of shells and availability of healthy man give the impression that there is no lack of people or munition. The photo is taken on 27 September 1917 in Contay (close to the Somme in Northern France) France). (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 3214)

More than enough weapons in stock.

British soldiers pose around the edge of a large collection of (bomb) shells. The almost endless number of shells and availability of healthy man give the impression that there is no lack of people or munition. The photo is taken on 27 September 1917 in Contay (close to the Somme in Northern France) France). (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 3214)

Showing off the latest military technology.

This photo, made by a German official photographer, shows a Fokker Dr.I fighter biplane of the Jagdgeschwader 1. Images like this give the impression that the army has access to the latest equipment. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 54405)

Showing off the latest military technology.

This photo, made by a German official photographer, shows a Fokker Dr.I fighter biplane of the Jagdgeschwader 1. Images like this give the impression that the army has access to the latest equipment. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 54405)

Commemoration and public history

This picture, made in 1918, shows the Australian section at the Royal Academy of Arts, which hosted an exhibition by the Imperial War Museum. It shows that the official photographs of World War 1 were immediately used to “tell the story of WW1”. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 27723)

Commemoration and public history

This picture, made in 1918, shows the Australian section at the Royal Academy of Arts, which hosted an exhibition by the Imperial War Museum. It shows that the official photographs of World War 1 were immediately used to “tell the story of WW1”. (IWM Non Commercial Licence, Imperial War Museum, Q 27723)