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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

World War One - Photography

A story related to Springwood Historians recently suggested that soldiers serving overseas in World War One were deprived of recording their experiences in photographs.  However, an advertisement in a newspaper and subsequent research has revealed that Australian and indeed British soldiers were entitled to take a 'small personal camera' with them on active service.(1)

An article in the Photographic Collection of The First World War Poetry Digital Archive confirmed three main categories of photographers during World War One; official, press and amateur.  Official photographers - like Charles Bean - were given commissioned status and documented the conflict at home and on the Western fronts.  However, even though photographs were distributed broadly in newspapers and in propaganda material and provided official military records they were still subject to military and civilian censorship. 

Press photographers had a degree of freedom in Egypt and Mesopotamia but rigorously restricted in places like the Western Front.(2) While restricted, these photographs provide evidence of the growing participation of civilians - especially women - and are a valued social history and military resource.

The photographs of the amateur photographer are no less valuable because they provide other visualisations of military life, however, how much or little they portrayed depended on the where they were stationed and the view of their commanding officers.(3) It would appear that Australian soldiers may have taken the Kodak Vest Pocket camera and an advertisement of the day implied that it was simple to use and required no skill or prior knowledge of photography. (4)  The advert suggested it weighed 9 ounces, was made for rough use and most importantly would not rust.

Limitations of the equipment then available limited the quality of the photographs.  Nevertheless, they are an important and extraordinary birds eye account of the conflict and the individual experience.
Pamela Smith
1. Oxford University, The First World War Poetry Archive, The Photographic Collection,, accessed 23.10.2012.
2. ibid.
3. Unidentified article, What Every Soldier Needs - the Vest Pocket Kodak.
4. ibid.
Other resources
Camerapedia, Vest Pocket Kodak,, accessed 23.10.2012.
Photographs: Google Images


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