The First World War was a literary conflict producing some of the most memorable poems, novels and plays of the twentieth century. While the Second World War left behind a striking visual record, including famous pictures such as Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima and Wait for Me Daddy, the First World War is not generally remembered as a visual conflict. But the war’s visual record is massive. States promoted the use of photography at the front for their historical and propaganda value. Kodak’s portable pocket vest camera was promoted to soldiers, whose private albums took on greater meaning after the war as tokens of remembrance and objects of mourning. Often treated as mere visual representations of the war’s textual record, historians are also now considering the history of the photographs themselves. Who took them and for what purpose? What did the photographer leave out of the image and why? As material objects, what did they mean to the owner and how they remembered their war experiences?

In the latest episode of On War & Society, Dr. Beatriz Pichel, author of the new book Picturing the Western Front: Photography, Practices and Experiences in First World War France discusses the visual legacy of the First World War, the importance of treating photographs as primary sources, the controversies over colourisation and the future of photographic history in an age of visual abundance.

Banner Image: French military photographer photographing an injured British soldier. National Library of Scotland
License: CC BY 4.0.