I have written about amateur photography during the First World War elsewhere on this blog (see here), but in light of the Centre’s forthcoming fundraising drive next week, to raise 5 000$ for the digitisation of our photograph collection, I thought that I would write about another element of the Great War’s photographic record – the photo-postcard.
A large portion of the Centre’s photography collection is formed of photo-postcards, which provide a glimpse of the importance of the photo studio and portrait within Western society at this time. Photography studios were very common in urban Canada in the last 20 years of the 19th century and the years just before the war. As technology became cheaper and the printing process standardised to the use of gelatin silver prints, studio portraits became accessible to more than just the merchanting upper middle class.
The real photo-postcard, a photographic negative developed directly onto thick card paper, was another invention of Kodak, and coincided with the production of an amateur camera that was fitted with film that was sized specifically for photo-postcards. So, photo-postcards could either be studio portraits printed onto the Kodak Velox paper, or, amateur photographs taken with a Kodak pocket camera that were developed professionally. Either way, real photo-postcards introduced yet another way for colloquial scenes to be shot and shared, in one-off copies to friends and family.
During the war, photo-postcards were a way to show family and friends at home your uniform, or that you were still well. They were ideal for soldiers, being cheap and readily available at studios in rural England where they trained, or in the towns in France close to the front lines. Most photographs of this genre usually show the soldiers in uniform against a formal back-drop, with props such as riding crops (which a private soldier would never likely have carrier), letters, or books. Sadly, for modern history buffs, most of these cards remain anonymous or identifiable by first name or military unit only. Since they were being sent to friends and family, the sender didn’t feel the need to identify themselves. Still, these photographs remain important, since they illustrate not only an aspect of photography history, but also a slice of the culture of the First World War, and the life soldiers had when they were not on the front lines.
Next week, the Centre will be running an online funding campaign to raise money to digitise these wonderful, real-life snap shots of history. Please help us by donating online VIA our donations page or VIA Facebook.