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Records of War - Photography and Letters from World War One

What did men and women living through World War One find important to record 100 years ago? Through personal and official use of photography, what stories did they try to tell in an image and for what purpose?

This exhibition focuses on letters sent home, press photography, snapshots taken by soldiers and Home Front photographs of life in auxiliary hospitals recorded in a photograph album.

 

By the start of World War One in 1914 photography was widely used to illustrate stories in newspapers and growing in popularity as a hobby for the well off. Photography studios for formal portraits could be found in most towns.

Photography was still a relatively new medium. The first photograph was made in 1825 but it was not until the 1850s, with advances in chemistry and glass lenses, that it was used for recording events and people. The first commercially successful, mass produced cameras appeared in the 1880s. Kodak's roll film cameras for amateur photographers were the most popular. By 1900, the folding Goerz Ansch├╝tz was the camera of choice for press photographers.

Men going to war often had a studio photograph taken of themselves in their uniform, whilst many carried a photograph of a loved one with them. The development of smaller portable cameras allowed those serving on war fronts in Europe and the Middle East to capture images of their personal experiences. Perhaps they were afraid of forgetting these or wanted to share what they were living through with people at home as well as with each other.

Photographs of daily life, major events and war work on the Home Front were often gathered together in personal albums as records of this charged time in history.

Letters sent home or written to those on the frontline were a major source of news and contact. Today they give a poignant insight into personal experience of war, offering a different viewpoint to formal military histories.

 

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