World War I in color
What might look like Technicolor images are early examples of real color photography. Pioneer photographers chose one of the greatest catastrophes as their motif: WWI. They are both pieces of evidence and works of art.
Record of devastation
During the First World War, photography was mainly seen as a means of spreading propaganda and of serving military interests. Depicted here is the view over the River Maas and the devastated city of Verdun. In fall of 1916, up to 400 members of the German army were involved in aerial photography. Some civilians also took photographs documenting moments of terror - and of joy.
The first sunset after the war
The book "The First World War in Colour,“ edited by Peter Walther, presents more than 320 color photographs which originally came from archives in Europe, the US and Australia. They document events during the war, ranging from the mobilization in 1914 to the victory celebration in London, New York, and at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on July 14, 1919.
The novelty of color
The first color photographs were produced with the so-called autochrome technique which its inventors, the Lumière brothers, had patented in 1904. Tiny particles serve as color filters, bearing a small resemblance both to paintings and to modern digital photography. This photograph depicts the French blimp "Alsace," which was shot down on October 3, 1915.
At the front
Because the autochrome technique required long exposure times, the photographs taken near the front were often carefully posed. Nevertheless, we gain insight into the daily lives of people and the horrors they had to deal with. Here, a motorized gun-carriage with a cannon used for air defense is pictured in Verdun in 1916.
Appeal for donations
This picture, shot by the American Committee for Devastated France (1917-24) in 1918, depicts an ammunition depot in France. The committee's aim was to alleviate the enormous suffering of French war refugees. The photographs were taken to help the Americans visualize what was going on in Europe - and to persuade them to make donations.
Private photos for the family
For the first time, not only the government but also private individuals were able to take photographs during World War I. As a result, not only propaganda photos, but also soldiers' personal impressions of the front and everyday life remain. In the French army, taking photos was officially forbidden, but the rule wasn't strictly enforced. Here, a French soldier is posing in a concrete dugout.
For the first time in history, aerial warfare came into play in the First World War. Pictured here is a French war plane. At the beginning of the war, the French and Britons together possessed as many planes as the Germans. Thanks to the air surveillance carried out by the Royal Flying Corps, the Germans could be stopped at the Battle of the Marne in 1914.
The first tanks were used by the Britons in the fall of 1916, in order to break open the gridlocked fronts. This British tank was photographed in Péronne near Amiens. By 1918, the Allies were able to acquire up to 6,000 tanks. At first, Germany underestimated the powerful new weapon. It wasn't until the spring of 1918 that the Germans developed and implemented a tank of their own, the A7V.
The speed of war
A whole range of new weapons was developed during the First World War, from war planes to tanks and poison gas. The increased use of motorized vehicles made the front more dangerous, but it also meant that injured soldiers could be transported relatively quickly to medical facilities - for example with this British ambulance in 1914.
Art and evidence
The photo pioneers were able to preserve their photo chrome plates over four years of war. Their works are not only evidence of the Great War, but also impressive works of art which deserve to be rediscovered. Peter Walther's "The First World War in Colour" was published both English and German by TASCHEN.