Photographing the Western Front

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The First World War was the first war in which photography played a major role. Photos were published in newspapers and magazines and depicted the course of the war. Censorship played an important role, because the displayed photos were not allowed to undermine the morale of the population in any way.

The compact Glyphoscope stereo camera by Jules Richard
The compact Glyphoscope stereo camera by Jules Richard

It remains unknown how many soldiers had a camera and captured war scenes. The large numbers of photos and stereoviews that were published after the war by commercial publishers proves that they must be huge numbers. It is clear that photography had become accessible to a large group of amateurs at the beginning of the conflict. Compact and affordable cameras like Jules Richard’s Glyphoscope easily fit into a soldier’s backpack, but it were mostly the officers who could afford a camera. Photo-Plait focused especially on the soldiers at the front with compact cameras. 

It was forbidden by law for soldiers to possess a camera in the front line, without proper authorisation. This law was intended to prevent espionage and bypass censorship. However, reality was different.

Cover of Le Miroir of 3 September 1916
Cover of Le Miroir of 3 September 1916

Le Miroir first appeared in 1910 as a richly illustrated supplement to Le Petit Parisien. It had been published as an independent weekly magazine from 1912[1]. The images consisted mainly of illustrations and reproductions of photographs. The magazine had its largest circulation, with one million copies, at the end of the war. The editions were thinner because of paper ration, but were completely devoted to the war. Le Miroir showed a one-sided and chauvinistic image of the war and was an important propaganda paper. The magazine is constantly looking for sensational images that could boost sales. It mainly focused on soldiers at the front who were in possession of a camera and who managed to bypass censorship. Later in the war, the subtitle of the magazine was[2]:

Le Miroir pays any price for photographic documents relating to the war, presenting a particular interest.

It also organised a competition for the “most appealing picture” with a grand prize of 30.000 francs.


  1. Le Miroir (hebdomadaire photographique) – via:
  2. Le Miroir, 3 September 1916
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