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Records of War - Photography and Letters from World War One

In The News

In The News

Although photographers had already recorded aspects of the American Civil War, The Crimean War, The Boer War and the Balkan War of 1912, news photography came into its own during World War One.

Whilst the British Army recognised the importance of photography for fieldwork and reconnaissance as early as 1856, consideration of photography as a means of public information and propaganda had been overlooked. When war was declared in August 1914, there was no infrastructure in place to control photography of events by either press or amateur photographers.

Initially professional photographers were excluded from war zones but this could not be consistently enforced. With added pressure from newspaper owners, the Government was forced to adopt a more relaxed policy to censorship in return for the press's support of Government propaganda. It was also recognised that, not only were photographs a source of news, they were a record of history in the making.

Recent research has revealed that photographs of soldiers on the Western Front, held in The Gibbs Collection at Annan Museum, were originally taken as official Canadian army press photographs. They were probably licensed for printing to Annan photographer Frederick Gibbs. Some of the original photographs have survived and are held in the Canadian War Museum collection, Ottawa.

 

Frederick Gibbs (1888 - 1940) was a professional photographer with a business at Regent House, High Street, Annan. Known as Fred, he was conscripted in 1916 aged 28 and sent to the Western Front where he served as a sapper in the Royal Engineers. In a letter home written on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, he describes to his wife Mabel and young son Oswald, a knee injury for which he was invalided out of the army, returning to his family and business in 1919.

Not long before he died, Fred gave to his daughter Sybil, also a professional photographer, seventy-two photographic prints which her nephew Alan Gibbs subsequently donated to Annan Museum. They show aspects of life on the Western Front, including moments of leisure, the impact of war on civilians and the realities of war. Each has been carefully composed and expertly developed from glass plate negatives. The amount of detail recorded in each image is significant, providing us today with important historical insights. Fred, with his trained photographer's eye, and perhaps also his commercial mind, brought home images which were dynamic and told powerful stories.

 

You can find further information about the photographic prints here.