A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
April, 1918, Givenchy Road, France--this is an official war photograph of captured German soldiers. There are hundreds of smaller photographs composing the larger full photo of this mass scene of fear, relief, exhaustion, and boredom. Everywhere a portrait, and each portrait with a different story to tell.
See this blog's continuing series on WWI photographs, here.
Also see an earlier post on this site, a similar photograph, the original of which is offered for sale on the blog's bookstore, here.
Here we are at the beginning of a new baseball season, everyone daisy-fresh and dazzlingly shiny, so I thought I'd share this fine image from my collection of World War I news service photographs. In 1918 all was for fun and charity of the British Blue Cross, and Ms. Phyllis Broughton joined the festivities, though whether see is entirely reluctant or determined, we'll never know. Perhaps both--whatever the case, she did what she was asked to do for a good cause, with a stiff upper lip.
(The typed description on the coarse paper was intended for the newspaper ro journal that published the photograph to use for the caption.)
This photograph is available for purchase on the blog's bookstore, here.
(It seems that this Phyllis Broughton is Ms. Phylis Broughton, star of stage and, well, stage. Read about her here.)
These two photographs of the streets of Berlin come from the 19 May 1919 issue of Illustrirte Zeitung. Evidently there are lots of people carrying placards and advertisement vehicles, and--as we see in the lead photo--some people wearing costumes of the advertised product. Between the two images, it seems that a good percentage of the crowds are actually advertising media.
I don't know why this is the case. Germany certainly was in a bad place seven months after the end of WWI, (recovering from food shortages, experiencing money shortages, numerous political parties fighting among themselves and everyone fighting with Communists), and just three months before the adoption of the Weimar constitution, and two months after what would be the disastrous Versailles Treaty was signed. Maybe there was a shortage of newsprint, or a shortage of money for people to buy magazines and/or newspapers, which mean people weren't seeing advertisements and which means that perhaps retailers were being hurt even further, and so an army of placard-holders was let loose on the streets of Berlin and other cities to get out the consumption-reminders.. Or maybe not. In any event, the photographs are stunning.
About two months after the Germans used the first poison gas in WWI (on April 22, 1915 against French Colonial troops at he Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium) the Scientific American published (on June 12, 1915) an account of some very early responses to the new lethal threat. This was a more caustic and dangerous form of a warfare that existed for at least 2200 years, going back to the Peloponnesian wars, with pitch- and sulphur-saturated wood that was set alight and buried under siege walls, the noxious smoke incapacity the soldiers within the walls. As the SA article also points out, bellows were used to propel the nasty and noxious smoke produced in a cauldron of burning charcoal, pitch and sulphur, blown hopefully over the walls and lines of the enemy--this at about the same time as the Athenians and Spartans were having it out.
There's also indications that plague/disease-ridden animal carcasses were catapulted across enemy lines, armies going at one another using rockets of diseased meat. And so on.
But the 150 tons of chlorine gas that the Germans sent over the French lines on that day was something entirely different--and far more lethal than any other gas previously used. (There was an earlier attempt to use gas in battle, employing an even nastier gas--xylyl bromide. It was dispatched January 15, 1915 against the Russians on the Eastern Front, but due to extreme cold most of the gas froze--it still however was potent enough to kill a thousand soldiers.)
The early response to protection from gas warfare was inadequate, with masks being sometimes little more than string and cotton gauze. This response was better than no response, because in the end it at least gave some millions of soldiers comfort to know that they were being taken care of, that something was being done to address the gas problem. Of course this would last only so long as they didn't have to actually employ the mask.
As the war progressed, the gas mask response improved, though so did the lethal varities of gases that were employed. Even the best of the masks were incapable of defending much against phosgene and diphosgene--and then there was no protection at all from mustard gas, which was another beast entirely.
It was the illustrations that stopped me in the Scientific American article--first for the flannel muzzle mask (above), which made my heart half-break; and then, just beneath that picture, a portrait of a group of British soldiers wearing cloth masks, who were "prepared to weather a gas attack". They were told that adding a little water to the mask would help stop the gas, a lot of which was hopeful expectation and wishful thinking.
An earlier post appears here, "Gas Masks and Poison Gas, World War I, 1915", on early (November/December 1915) masks.
The searchlight had been used in military operations for several decades before this cover appeared in the Scientific American for June 15, 1915. Just a few years earlier an idea for using a powerful illuminating source in a dirigible for night time bombing appeared in the Illustrated London News--it was pretty powerful, showing the dark airship against a dark sky, the searchlight piercing its way down to the surface to reveal fleeing African tribesmen. (Why the target was Africa and tribesmen with spears I can only guess at, but each answer I come up with is not pretty.) The present image seems like a fine idea at first for the defensive position, illuminating an advancing line in a night time attack. That said, the spotlight seems like a pretty big target, the 5'-wide glowing glass an easy mark from a few hundred feet. One thing I could say for sure is that I would not want to be the guy up there operating the spot, which right now looks more like a light tube to fill bullets with more than anything else.
Earlier in this blog I wrote about an extraordinary WWI news service photograph from a collection here of German prisoners on display, ca. autumn, 1918. (There's a description along with tighter, detailed images of the individual faces of the prisoners here.) In the great wide world of serendipity, where everything is possible, and nothing seems to be in the place you'd expect it to be, I found another photograph of that same group of POWs.
The original photo--truly a fine and remarkable image:
And the newly-uncovered photograph, showing this group either approaching or leaving the side of the cinema where their group portrait was made:
And the detail:
And one of the details from the original post:
There's a lot of surrounding British soldiers and Irish Tommies, and commotion, and mud, and happy/confused/and something else in the faces of the victors as they paraded this end-of-the-war group of soldiers in the muck. In the original group portrait the soldiers are bookended by what I see as two extremes of soldiers in the war--the boy on the left, experienced with god-knows-what under his camouflaged and hardened baby fat:
and the guy on the right, who seems so much like a Durer-Death/apocalypse image itself, a thousnad-yard-stare man, a soldier of deep experience, and worn to the nub:
He seems to have the same expression in each picture:
Maybe he was just bone-tired, though he definitely gives the impression of you-can't-hurt-me, and perhaps underneath it all he was happy to have made it through the war alive, and hadn't become one of the 40 million casualties. In a few months, the war would be over, and perhaps most of the men in this picture got to go home.
In January, 1915, in the pre-Luistania/post beginning of WWI (by six months) days, Scientific American declared an interest in the state of the United States military and found it lacking. It posted this very strong statement to advertise a coming special issue investigating the status of the armed services.
Perhaps the most telling image in that special issue (of 5 February 1915) was an image of soldiers scaling a fortress wall--that's pretty much the polar opposite of what training should have been happening, what with trench warfare and all. There is also a photograph of practicing cavalry--and not a hint of a tank. There was little or no attention being paid to the developments in aerial/gas/tank/trench warfare, the armaments and munitions of war were ancient-esque, and the standing army numbered around 100,000 (plus 120k in National Guard), which was hardly anything at all compared to the fact the French Army on a single day (August 22, 1914) in the Alsace-Lorraine region lost 27,000 dead and 40,000 wounded, and that there were already 3 million dead/wounded in the European theater. There would be readiness factions and peace factions at work for the heart and mind of the U.S., but that wouldn't really start for another month or two. In the meantime, though, Scientific American took stock of the military situation, and found that the U.S. was militarily-prepared for almost nothing, so far as global war was concerned.
"I am the first woman to make a flight across London, in one of His Majesty's war machines; I am the first woman who has been presented by the War Office with a view of Hyde Park from an altitude of almost eight thousand feet."--Jane Anderson (1916)
I was somewhat surprised to see that this pamphlet was co-written by a woman—my experience with WWI pamphlets is that it is vastly dominated by male writers, and I would have expected it to stay so especially for this subject matter. Jane Anderson was an interesting writer with a free style, and I can tell that she had a good time with her experiences. She starts with this, and tells an unusual story in an easy way:
“Seven thousand feet above Hyde Park, an American Girl looked straight ahead and saw "the roof of the Sky" from England's finest Warplane.” An example of her writing on the sub:"When I looked at her lying with her exposed tubes shining in the sunlight and her bulkheads in strips of rusty iron, it seemed incredible that she had been under the coast guns of the enemy, that she could have made in her damaged condition a journey of three hundred miles, returning to a safe harbour with the information she had been sent to obtain. And, added to this, was the fact that she had made the voyage in a high sea, that for twenty hours, defenceless, she evaded the enemy patrols....” The pamphlet really is worth a read, and it is available here for free via the Internet Archive. The second part of this story is not so great--checking Ms. Anderson's biography
reveals an ugly twist and deep turn to the far and distant fascist/Nazi right. She was certainly an adventurer, and at some point she winds up marrying nobility in Spain and covers the Spanish Civil War--but she goes from journalism to propaganda and begins to write and broadcast for the Fascist government. Her good works there come to the attention of the Nazis, who pursue their interest in her. Anderson responds, and goes to work in service of Adolf Hitler. She writes propaganda, and then is given her own radio show. She seems to have been useful for a time, and then perhaps wasn't, but she stayed in Germany until the end of the war, arrested after flight finally in 1947 in Austria. She was charged with treason, but released for lack of evidence. She survived herself, went to Spain, and lived to be 84, dying in 1972.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1328 (from 2011, revised)
.003% That's what I reckon this column of soldiers would represent of the total casualties of WWI.
Generally images like this are a virtual image-host for me, a bucket of ice cold water thrown onto a sizzling summer sidewalk, all sorts of ideas steaming from it. But for photographs of Doughboys1 marching, especially assembling for parade, this one struck me a little more oddly than most, giving instant pause, making me concentrate on the haze, or dust, that allowed the columns of soldiers to blend into one another and fade, losing their boundaries with their mass receding into a dull blur.
The Western Newspaper Union was selling this image for insertion in newspaper or journal stories about the war, for a small use fee. There were a few American organizations like Western Newspaper that were created to photographically cover the war, using pools of photographers who would distribute their work anonymously and which was available for common, general use for a small charge. The photographs allowed out were certainly restricted and censored, though in my stash of these of objects (numbering about a thousand) I'd say that 10% of them look pretty edgy to my eyes. Most of the action of war was not covered, but then again this aspect was still fairly technically difficult in 1918. Images of pain were almost never allowed, and certainly not pain of Allied troops. Aid stations were almost never covered as well, as were dead bodies, or at least those again of Americans or Brits or French or Canadian. The imaging of the war was certainly under a fair amount of supervision and control. (The original is available for purchase through our blog bookstore. here.)
The image shows American troops assembling for a parade through the streets of London before being deployed. The mistiness of the composition looks like a statistic to me, these men standing for those who had come before and fallen.
The U.S. lost .13% of its population to casualties (125,000 killed and 205,000 wounded) during the war--a war which by the time America got here had already been visciously fought for three years, costing dozens of millions of lives. The figures for everyone else weren't nearly so "fortunate" as the U.S.: New Zealand's 18,000/41,312 killed/wounded amounted to 1.6% of its population. The U.K. lost 2.19% (964,000/1,663,000), Italy was 3.48% (650,000/953,000 plus 650,000 civilian casualties), while France suffered a 4.29% (1.4 million/4.27 mil) blow of its total population to war. Things were worse on the other side: Germany 3.82% (2 mil/2.4 mil plus 426,000 civilian deaths, and the Ottoman Empire 12% (400,000/771,000 plus 2.1 million civilian deaths. Worst of all was the Ally Serbia, suffering a catastrophic 16% loss of its population to war, including 275,000/725,000 plus 426,000 civilian casualties. As gruesome as the numbers were, the Americans felt only a small percentage of the total sting of war--by 11 November, more than 21 million soldiers would have been wounded, with 9.7 million soldiers and 6.8 million civilians killed. It was an enormous price.
And that's what I see in the mist of what may be something like 10,000 soldiers on display n this photograph. .003% That's two of these columns every day, twice a day, for the entire 1550 or so days of the war.
1. The origin of the term "Doughboy" is unclear, or varied, or rich, but it is at least pretty oldm beginning around the time of the Mexican American War in 1846-1848--evidently when the soldiers marched through dry, tough terrain they wound up being covered by earth with the color of dough. Doughboy.
The original of this photo is available on the blog's WWI Photography site; it is also available now as a 13x19 inch reproduction from a 1200 dpi scan.
This news photo service image--stamped "Hearst-Pathe News Agency" on the back--is frm the winter of 1917/1918 and shows a patriotic snow parade somewhere in the United States. The snow looks prodigious, judging from the piles in the foreground and also the accumulated snow on the windowsills, and I imagine that all of the snow floats were sculpted mainly out of exiting snow in the street. It is a delightful scene, to me, and hosts a variety of smaller, lovely images in vignette. For example:
The man in shadow and sleeping figure (boy) in the buggy complement the white-mustachioed bowler-wearing man to the left; the men looking on in the foreground are interesting, too--plus there's that laundry in the background. Given that the laundry is out (and wasn't just left out during the storm) and that no one seems to be particularly bundled up against cold, I'm going to guess that there was a break in the weather that pushed the temperature higher than normal, with almost everyone taking advantage of the warm snap, as people do everywhere, all the time. I also like the tiny American flag on the tall pole at left.
I'm not sure what this photo depicts specifically but in general it sends an image of exhaustion and wear. The caption for the image says that it shows "the condition of the Hun troops" and that the subject "Herr Professor" is learning "a good many things not hitheroto found in books". Maybe he was a teacher, maybe not. Machts nichts. His pants looks velour-like and his boots (if that's what his footware was) look very thin. He is ragged, his double-fold glasses look like they're at their limit, his face looks swollen behind his beard, and he just looks "done", in general.
[Original photograph available for purchase via the blog's WWI Photography site]
I'm not sure what he is doing, or where he is. He may be trying to figure out local currency to purchase whatever it is the vendor-woman has on the tray at her hip--she os holding out her hand, and looking at his. The soldier definitely has something there, and he looks basically too weary to comprehend it. the hand language is ambiguous to me. He may have received something already, some sort of food, and he is staring at it now, thinking perhaps how little of it there was. He's eating, and already has taken a bite of whatever bread-like thing is in his left hand. I'm not sure what attracted the attention of the boy in the center--perhaps it is simply the camera, and he wanted to be in the shot.
There's a shadow in the foreground-left of what looks like someone making a photograph of teh scene--probably not our photographer, but another, with a brownie or some such smaller camera.
At the end of years of fighting every general soldier deserves respect and, at least, some free food--I hope this guy got his.
And the accompanying text to the news photo service image, to be used if published:
Its a little difficult to think of Ellsworth Kelly, Jacques Villon, Grant Wood, Laslo Moholy-Nagy and Thomas Hart Benton as painters-for-war. But its true, and true for many of hundreds of other artists in the 1915-1918 era. Its not as though they were in the trenches gunning down the enemy or lobbing hand grenades into the swirling gunsmoke. They were camofleurs, camouflage1 experts, artists employed as magicians, Wartime Magi, employed/drafted to make ships and such disappear.
Ever since it was (sort of) first noticed in 1915 that designs odd to the environment, stark geometric patterns and such, were capable of fooling the eye, people with design capacity were pressed into service, rendering offensive and defensive instruments of war optically semi-impervious with variations of the then-five-year-old modern nonrepresentational art. That must've been a very odd position to wake up to every morning.
Of course the idea of camouflage in the animal world is probably 250 million years old--animals and insects have been blending into their environment for eons, and I'm sure too that early hominids did their fair share of walking behind brush. But the idea of hiding great amalgamations of very heavy metal with paint is really quite modern.
[The original photograph is available for purchase at the blog's bookstore, here.]
In this photograph the camouflage is more a more futuristic conception of art than the abstract and cubist approaches that were taken during the war, this looking more like assemblages of found material more than anything else. And, according to the text that accompanied the photograph (which comes from 1918, from the Underwood & Underwood news photo service agency), the camouflage--empty sandbags thrown on a barbed wire fence) successfully concealed a gunnery emplacement for months on end.
1. A fine bibliography on camouflage appears here, at Leonardo Online.
The definition of "camouflage" from the Oxford English Dictionary shows that it is a young word, in English:
"(n) The disguising of any objects used in war, such as camps, guns, ships, by means of paint, smoke-screens, shrubbery, etc., in such a way as to conceal it from the enemy; also, the disguise used in this way; freq. attrib.
1917 Daily Mail 25 May 4/4 The act of hiding anything from your enemy is termed ‘camouflage’.
1917 Daily Mail 16 July 5/3 The King paid a visit to what is called a camouflage factory.
1922 C. E. Montague Disenchantment viii. 108 A French aerodrome across which the French camouflage painters had simply painted a great white high-road.
This interesting and arresting images appears in Scientific American Supplement, October 23, 1915 (page 269). It is an excellent view of topside from 30' or so below. The article describes simple, compound, tele-objective, direct-reflected, panoramic, and periscopes with annular fields--sort of simple, but not really. In any event the panoramic periscope gave a view of a directed point-of-view as well as a slender (but versatile) 360o.
Here's another in a long line of images from my WWI news photo service photographs. So far as I can determine what we see here is a group of French soldiers engaged in redoubt or perhaps trenchwork construction. To the right we see a crudely-marked Red Cross, perahps for a not-front-line position. The photo is stamped "Committee on Public Information, Washington, Copyright 1917" and has a dated stamp for "Dec 21 1917". Fo rmore information on this series see the long threads on World War I and particularly World War I Photography (which is our sales site).