3c Reflecting – Part 2

I&P Exercise 3.3


Write a reflection in your learning log about some of the ways in which marginalised or under-represented people or groups could be badly or unhelpfully portrayed.
— How might being an insider help combat this?

I&P p.80

Part 2 – Photography and Warfare

← Part 1


Note: this is an enormous subject and this treatment only scratches its surface, nevertheless, this exercise provides an interesting approach to the matter and the initial research might prove useful for future work.

In this context, the examples of photography used to the detriment of some individuals tend not to be portraits: their scale diminishes or renders entirely invisible the human component, reflecting, perhaps, the attitudes of those in charge who are careless of the loss of life. By contrast, the images which have been used to counteract the harm, by stressing the individual humanity of those being harmed, are often portraits. This is a case of ‘the portrait against the machines of war’.

Aerial reconnaissance

Phillips (ed., 2010, p.141) notes the development of surveillance photography for military intelligence purposes, starting with observation balloons, then aerial reconnaissance in WW1 (fig. E1) and by WW2 this had been developed to be ‘so efficient and widespread that the beaches of Normandy were photographed only hours before D-Day’. The essay in Phillips traces this development through to the essential evidence it provided during the Cuban Missile Crisis, then the role of aircraft being subsequently taken over by satellite technology. While the use of photography in international conflicts may sometimes be to societies’ benefit, not all wars are ‘good’ or popular and, of course, it is used by both ‘sides’. Individual and journalistic photography has certainly played roles in subverting military efforts and alerting the public to the detail of wars .


Some of the earliest war photographs were taken at Crimea by Roger Fenton (figs. E4, E5) † who attended the conflict with a horse-drawn darkroom, an indication of the demands of the technology available at the time. Controversy has arisen relatively recently over the authenticity of Fenton’s Valley of the Shadow of Death(Public Domain Review , n.d.) as there are two versions of the photograph, with differently arranged cannonballs and the location is not where the Charge of the Light Brigade took place.

In the following decade, in the American Civil War, Alexander Gardner, Mathew Brady and Timothy O’Sullivan (fig. E5) were active. O’Sullivan’s The Harvest of Death (fig. E6) was one of the most famous images of that conflict and emphasised to those who saw it at the time the brutal nature of the war, but it is also subject to accusations of manipulation, through the rearrangement of bodies for dramatic effect (Meltzer, 2012). Gardner and Brady have also been accused of routinely choreographing their photographs (Military History Now, 2015).

Box E
1. Aerial View of Trenches, 1917
2. D-Day, Normandy beach fortifications, 1944
3. USAF SA-2 anti-aircraft site, Havana, Cuba, 1962
4. Roger Fenton 8th Hussars Cooking Hut, n.d.
5. Roger Fenton, Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855
6. Timothy O’Sullivan The Harvest of Death: Union dead on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 5–6, 1863
© the artists, their agents or their estates
image sources: 1. Canadian War Museum; 2. Heiferman, 2012 3. Phillips, 2010, plate 111; 4-5. The Guardian 6. TheMet

† Whenever Fenton is considered, at is also worth mentioning two pieces derived from his Valley of the Shadow of DeathPaul Seawright’s, Afghanistan, 2002 and Terry Towery’s View of Crimean Battle Scene, 2006.

First World War

As was seen with the Suffragists, it was only when photographic equipment became more affordable and more portable that the actual participants gained the opportunity to photograph and publicise their own circumstances. Before WW1, Kodak released the Vest Pocket Camera or VPK (fig. F1) that became popular with the troops: when Kodak advertised it as ‘The Soldiers’ Kodak’, UK sales rose from 5,500 in 1914 to 28,000 in 1915 (Harding, 2014) .

Cooksey (2017) describes how cameras such as the VPK transformed the nature, availability and appeal of photography, with the result that many of those serving in WW1, particularly officers, were already experienced with their use when they joined up. In addition to this, newspapers offered substantial payments for published photographs (CITE). Although the Defence of the Realm Act was passed at the beginning of the war, and newspaper reporters sent home after negative reports were published, ‘the government relented by allowing five ‘accredited reporters’ access to the front’, however their stories were severely censored (Greenslade, 2014).
No thought, it would seem, was given at first to personal photography, but in December 1914 a General Routine Order (GRO) was issued, instructing,

The taking of photographs is not permitted and the sending of films through the post is prohibited, Any officers or soldiers (or other persons subject to military law) found in possession of a camera will be placed in arrest, and the case reported to the General Headquarters as to disposal

Cooksey, pp. 40-41

As with reporting, photography was allowed under strictly enforced censorship and Ernest Brooks (fig. F2) was the first official photographer to be appointed. The New York Times reports that,

Brooks had no reservations about recreating scenes he had witnessed earlier or even posing photographs outright. After being exposed by other journalists for faking photographs, he would not stage photographs again.

 Allen, 2014

Despite the restrictions, the troops continued to take personal photographs and many survive. Cooksey provides some notable examples, of the 9th Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, September 1915 (fig. F3), 1/18th Battalion, London Regiment going ‘over the top’ (fig. F4), an execution (probably of a spy) (fig. F5). Incidentally, Christina Broom, who we met photographing suffragists had by now became the self-styled ‘Official Photographer to the Guards’ and is shown in fig. F6 displaying her products at the Women’s War Work Exhibition, Prince’s Skating Rink, Knightsbridge, London, May 1916.

Box F
1. Kodak Vest Pocket Camera (VPK)
2. Ernest Brooks ‘somewhere on the Western Front’ with his Goerz Anschütz plate camera NY Times
3-5 see text for descriptions, from Cooksey (2017)
6. Christina Broom, ‘Official Photographer to the Guards’
7. Distribution du courrier sur le front. Lieu inconnu, juillet 1916
© the artists, their agents or their estatesimage sources: 1. National Science and Media Museum; 2. New York Times; 3-5. from Cooksey (2017); 6. Imperial War Museum; 7. L’Oeil de la Photographie

Although, as stated, most of the material explored here relates to the UK and US, an exhibition that includes French WW1 photography, Memorial ’14-18′, has (or would have sans Covid) opened at Notre Dame de Lorette, the French military cemetery as this being written. Fig. F7, from 1916, shows French troops opening newly-delivered mail.

In WW1, then, the military authorities used aerial reconnaissance for intelligence purposes, appointed official photographers to take carefully controlled photographs and sought to suppress personal photographs.

Second World War

The principal persecuted minority during WW2 was, of course, the Jewish community throughout Europe, although other groups were interred and killed by the Nazi authorities, as shown by a guide to identification badges (fig. G1) that I photographed at Dachau, the camp located surprisingly (perhaps naively on my part) in a suburb of Munich. Prisoners were colour-coded as : red – political; green – criminal; blue – foreign; purple – Jehovah’s Witnesses; pink – homosexual; black – antisocial (Sander’s ‘outsiders’); brown – Romany: all these had coloured inverted triangles. Jews had upright yellow triangles so that they could be identified in two categories when appropriate (Historyplace.com).

Within Germany, Marien (2002, p. 299) notes, ‘Goebbels determined that there should be no independent media in Germany. Journalists, photographers, writers, film and radio producers, publishers, printers, painters, and poets were conscripted into the Propaganda Division of the army.’

While Nazi propaganda imagery celebrating the physical qualities of its Aryan ideals were commonplace, notably in Riefenstahl’s work (fig. G2), representations of the minorities were often graphical caricatures rather than photographs because the traits they sought to display were imaginary (fig. G3). The scope for depicting and publicising Nazi activities was limited by suppression, forcing opponents to rely on creative depictions such of collage, at which John Heartfield excelled (fig. G4). The Jews and other minorities lacked the opportunity to fight back with photographs but as the war came to and end, press photographers documented the results of the Holocaust that was instrumental in securing convictions at the Nuremberg Trials, albeit this was of no use the the 8 million victims and little consolation to the survivors.

While the war was being fought, as far as the Allies were concerned, while censorship remained in place as regards negative news, reporting restrictions were relatively relaxed, especially towards the end, compared to those for WW1 and there are numerous well known examples of images showing troops in action, for example Capa‘s from the D-Day landings (fig. G6) and Joe Rosenthal Flag Raising (fig. G7) (there are no suggestions of inauthenticity regarding Capa’s D-Day, but there are over Rosenthal’s Flag Raising).

Box G
1. Dachau, 2016
2. Film poster for Leni Reifenstahl’s Olympia, 1938
3. A Nazi propaganda book aimed at children.
4. John Heartfield, Adolf the Ãœbermensch: Swallows gold and spouts junk, 1932
5. Prisoners from the Ebensee concentration camp
6. Robert Capa, D-Day Landing, Omaha Beach, 1944
7. Joe Rosenthal, Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, 1945
© the artists, their agents or their estates
image sources: 1.photographed at Dachau; 2.IMDB; 3. timesofisrael.com; 4. artsartistsartwork.com; 5. wunc.org 6-7. Time;

[25May] I should have commented on the Falklands War in the final section below, as pointed out in my Asg.3 tutor feedback.

It might be useful to reflect upon the Falklands War and the blatant censorship that was fed as news on a daily basis.
Asg.3 feedback

My tutor also provided a useful link,

Vietnam and after

US involvement in the Vietnam War began in the 1950s but escalated in 1961 under Kennedy and lasted until 1973. In this case, a combination of technical advances and relative press freedom made it the most widely photographed conflict and the most publicised and this resulted in a profound effect on the American public in turning opinions against US involvement. As touched on in C&N Part 1, Nick Ut’s image of the effect of a napalm strike on a Vietnam village and Eddie Adams’ of a street execution remain two of the most shocking photographs ever taken and both reverberated around the world. Brugioni in PhotoFakery (1999) comments that General William C. Westmoreland stated of Ut’s picture that the naked girl had been burned on a cooking fire and that ‘had she been hit by napalm she would not have survived’: the General was seemingly oblivious to the fact that the callousness of this conclusion, also a tacit admission that the US military napalmed villages made matters considerably worse.

Box H
1. Nick Ut, Villagers Fleeing a Napalm Strike, 1972
2. Eddie Adams, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner, Nguyen Van Lem, on a Saigon street, 1968.
© the artists, their agents or their estates

In order to avoid such exposure in subsequent conflicts, the US has used the practice of ’embedding’ journalists and photographers within military units, thus gaining some control over where they go, what they see, and what they can send to their parent media. Bull (2010, p.116) also notes ‘a tendency to self-censor horrific images of death and suffering’ although this is not always applied to ‘foreign bodies … in distant countries’. This approach has been used in both Gulf War (1990-91), the Iran War (2003-2011) and in Afghanistan (1999-2020). Another trend in recent times is the use of unmanned and automated armaments such as missiles and drones which transmit video footage of their strikes, often shown in news broadcasts and shown as stills in other media.

While the freedom of the working press has been curtailed, new technologies, namely digital imaging, mobile telephones and social media have allowed the rise of the citizen journalist in all spheres of endeavour and all parts of the world, including conflicts. perhaps the prime recent example is the Arab Spring of 2011 – details.
This technology can also have other effects, such as the revelations concerning prisoner treatment in Abu Ghraib prison camp.


Some additional lines that might be worth looking at:

Representation of the gay community before and after legalisation; during and after AIDS;  Mapplethorpe and Hujar – revelatory shows and funding controversy.

Poverty Porn – Medium.com Why Poverty Porn Needs to Stop.


I have sought to show:
1. That nation states, their Establishments, the status quo, plus plus organisations and media supporting those states have, almost since its invention, used photography to maintain themselves and that this can work to the detriment of some sectors within society.
2. That, from the outset, images have been manipulated for effect.
3. That when suitable cameras and film became available to the general public, this gave agency to those disadvantaged groups to redress the balance of information.

I&P Exc 3.3 References

Allen, C. (2014) Photographers on the Front Lines of the Great War [online]. nytimes.com. Available from https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/30/photos-world-war-i-images-museums-battle-great-war/ [Accessed 10 February 2020].

Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. [I&P]

Brown, B. (2003) Evelyn Manesta and the Resistance to “Modern” Photographic Surveillance [online]. notbored.org. Available from http://www.notbored.org/suffragettes.html [Accessed 6 February 2020].

Brugioni, D.A. (1999) PhotoFakery. Dullus, VA.: Brassey’s.

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Abingdon,Oxon: Routledge

Cooksey, J. (2017) VPK: The Vest Pocket Kodak and the First World War. Lewes: Ammonite Press.

Greenslade, R. (2014) First world war: how state and press kept truth off the front page [online]. theguardian.com. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jul/27/first-world-war-state-press-reporting [Accessed 10 February 2020].

Harding, C. (2014) THE VEST POCKET KODAK WAS THE SOLDIER’S CAMERA [online]. scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk. Available from https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/the-vest-pocket-kodak-was-the-soldiers-camera/ [Accessed 8 February 2020].

Heiferman, M (2012) Photography changes everything. NY: Aperture.

Historyplace.com (n.d.) Holocaust Timeline [online]. historyplace.com. Available from http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/holocaust/h-dach-early.htm [Accessed 12 February 2020].

Marien, M.W. (2002) Photography: a cultural history. (4th edn.) London: Laurence King.

Meltzer, S (2012) How the American West was won with the help of photographer Timothy O’Sullivan [online]. website. Available from https://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2012/11/14/how-the-american-west-was-won-with-the-help-of-photographer-timothy-osulliv [Accessed 8 February 2020].

Military History Now (2015) title [online]. militaryhistorynow.com. Available from https://militaryhistorynow.com/2015/09/25/famous-fakes-10-celebrated-wartime-photos-that-were-staged-edited-or-fabricated/ [Accessed 8 February 2020].

Phillips, S (2010) Exposed: voyeurism, surveillance, and the camera. London: Tate Publishing.

Public Domain Review (n.d.) Of Chickens, Eggs, and Cannonballs: Roger Fenton’s Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) [online]. publicdomainreview.org. Available from https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/roger-fenton-valley-of-the-shadow-of-death [Accessed 7 February 2020].

Tagg, John (1988) The burden of representation. Basingstoke: Macmillan.