“Some photographs from Somewhere in France”: The Great War photo-postcard

[Unknown Canadian infantry unit ]" T. McBryde, W. Bolicut, G. Fear, "Me" H. Tucker, "Old Bob", J. Morris, "Jeff"|France June 17/16 George" [Studio unknown] 1916. Collections CCGW/CCGG
[Unknown Canadian infantry unit ]” T. McBryde, W. Bolicut, G. Fear, “Me” H. Tucker, “Old Bob”, J. Morris, “Jeff”|France June 17/16 George”. R. Guilleminot, Boespflug et Cie – Paris. 1916. Collections CCGW/CCGG
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.

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4 thoughts on ““Some photographs from Somewhere in France”: The Great War photo-postcard

  1. I have a “carte postale” with the same address George.R. Guilleminot et Cie – Paris, which I believe was taken in 1916. The picture is of my Father on horseback in a background of high banking and high brick wall with brick wall supports, and in distance some tree foliage.
    At this time he was in the Yorkshire Hussars which according to regimental war diaries
    was behind the lines in Poperprinhe near Ypres. His khaki uniform is that of the Hussars
    with bandolier, long dagger and rifle plus blanket? roll. The photograph is tinted with his face
    and hand flesh-tone and bandolier reddish-brown, with khaki uniform and small yellow cap badge.

    From your photographic work I am now wondering whether this photographer was
    working in the Ypres area. I would grateful for any observations/comments about this photo

    Richard Ellis

    Like

    1. Hi Richard,

      That is a wonderful co-incidence! There could be a couple of possibilities; the photos may have both been developed at the same photo studio, George R. Guilleminot, by different photographers, or perhaps, as you suggest the work of a single photographer. It was also possible, with a Brownie camera, to take the snapshots yourself and have them developed as a postcard, so there is the third possibility of amateur photographers at work as well.

      Like

  2. I have a WW! photo taken by this photographer of my father on horse back in the Yorkshire
    Hussars somewhere behind the lines in the Ypres area circa 1916. The background to it is a high brick wall. The back of this sepia coloured photo gives the name of this photographer above

    Like

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