Unidentified portrait, possibly an American sailor.
Faces and places frozen in time, snapped by both amateur and professional photographers, capture the resilience of humanity in the midst of the horrors of war. These photographs, sometimes blurred and grainy, bound into large albums or just solitary remnants, provide a tangible record of a fleeting moment in history that continues to shape the world we live in today.
Prior to World War I, war photography was shot almost exclusively by professional photographers. Arduous and labor-intensive, it required hauling heavy equipment and creating prints onsite. That shifted in WWI. Technological advances and affordable costs allowed aspiring photographers with even modest means to own personal cameras. Their photographs chronicled more than just the devastation of war: They captured the unique, intimate perspectives of real people living moment to moment, helping shape the development of modern photojournalism.
For the first time in history, it was possible to both read about and see a major military conflict as it happened, as service personnel and private citizens armed with cameras documented their experiences. Many governments made the decision early in the war to control and use the photographic image to their advantage using carefully chosen views, infused with positive messages. Private photography, generally prohibited by official orders of the battling nations, nonetheless provided an illicit opportunity for individuals to shoot unfiltered and uncensored moments in new and unfamiliar environments.
Drawing from the unique and extensive National WWI Museum and Memorial collection, including hundreds of albums and thousands of individual photos, this stunning exhibition showcases a careful selection of more than 100 images that chronicle intimate experiences and transform our understanding of the Great War. These photos — many never seen in public — capture what was perhaps the last, or only, images recorded of many of their subjects. One brief moment made lasting in history.
Snapshots opens Oct. 29, 2021, and is on view in Wylie Gallery. Admission is $10. Or, purchase a combo ticket and visit the Museum, Snapshots and the Tower for just $23.
–National WWI Museum and Memorial (all photos courtesy of National WWI Museum and Memorial)