New on Source – Rare stereoscopic photos of WWI

Just in and newly digitised, Local Studies have loaded onto our Source digital archive a set of Stereograph images from World War 1.

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Originally intended to be viewed through a stereoscope, stereograph images were taken using a camera with three lenses in a triangular formation. The lens at the top provided a view of the scene for the photographer to help with the composition of the photo, while the two lenses below took two photographs from very slightly differing angles.

Viewing the resulting photographs through a stereoscope, the user would be able to “merge” the two images by looking through the viewer’s lenses – effectively recreating the three dimensional effect originally captured by the two cameras.

Stereographs had two eras of popularity. The first was in the 1850s and 60s. They became popular again in the late 1890s, lasting for the duration of the First World War and declining again after its end.

This particular set of images was taken and published by Hilton DeWitt Girdwood under the trademark of “Realistic Travels”. The set contains images from many different conflict locations – not only France and Belgium, but Gallipoli, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Egypt also make an appearance. Some images were disapproved of by the British government. Not because of the graphic nature of some of them, but because they had been staged by Girdwood. It was feared that staging of photographs could undermine the “authenticity” of war reporting in general.

All of the photographs were all taken in the field – even the staged ones.

See if you can guess why this one must have been staged:

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The answer of course is that a flash was used to illuminate the scene. This would never have been allowed if a real night attack was in progress as it would have alerted the enemy.

The detail contained in the photos is striking. Here are some closeups of a few of the scenes:

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Assault at Trones Wood

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German soldier being searched. His discarded rifle lies nearby.

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Troops prepare to attack Turkish forces at Cape Helles, Gallipoli.

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A tank in action at Cambrai.

See the entire collection HERE. Note the collection shows some images of death.

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