Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Color Photographs of Verdun During the 1916 Battle

From the Collection of Contributing Editor Tony Langley

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City of Verdun Showing Battle Damage
The First Shell Fired by the German Artillery Struck the Cathedral Complex Atop the Hill

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The Frontlines, Opening, German Highpoint, Close

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Three Views of Damage Post-Battle

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Loading a 280 mm Artillery Piece (Barrel  Not Visible, Note Shell Size, Though)

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Fort de Souville: In July 1916, German Soldiers Stood Atop Souville, 
But Neither Captured It Nor Advanced Further

About These Images:
These were true and authentic color photographs, made from color negatives using the Autochrome color technique as patented by the Brothers Lumiere in France in 1903 and commercialized in 1908. 
These photos were not hand colored or manipulated in any way. They were taken by a photographer living in the Marne-Paris region called Gervais-Courtellemont. He made a first series of authentic color photos of the Marne battlefields immediately after the battle in September 1914. The best of these were published in 12 monthly installments in a publication called 'Champs de Bataille de la Marne' by the 'Edition Francaise IllustrĂ©e' publishing co. in Paris. 
The color separation and printing process was not as up to date and tweaked as with for instance the printing of color lithographs or watercolors and therefore the photos look somewhat grainy or the colors are not correctly aligned during the printing process.
In any case, the first series was successful enough, that Gervais-Courtellemont set about to do the same with the Verdun battlefields, also publishing a 12 issue, monthly magazine containing the best of his photos. These issues were published in 1916-17, partly while the battle was still being fought or just immediately afterwards. As is usual with most Great War photography, there are no action shots and little of the front lines. The photos show conditions and views of the rear of the battlefield, the city of Verdun and various types of units involved.
It should also be noted, that while these two publications are the only ones I know of that published true and authentic color photos during the war itself, there were several pre-war publications of a somewhat similar nature, showing scenes from daily life in the French military. The photos in these publications, were however hand colored and hence oddly enough, printed in a better quality, with more vivid looking colors. They were however also very contrived and were posed to a rigorous degree, almost as if the setting were a theater stage.
Gervais-Courtellemont's two publications are quite unique among Great War magazines, and because of their obvious worth, were saved and collected to a greater degree than most other news magazines. Hence, they can even now still be found on occasion in secondhand bookshops or junk markets for reasonable prices.
Tony Langley

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