January 01, 2014

Reading is FUNdemental! 'The Great War: A Photographic Narrative'

On the occasion of the centenary of World War I commencing in August 2014 and lasting until 2018 there has been a wealth of products being released to commerate this cataclysmic event. One of the best so far (which I was lucky enough to get for Christmas) is this is a stunning collection of 380 black-and-white photographs, many never seen before, from Imperial War Museums in London. Images are included from all fronts, all points of view, during the war to end all wars, 1914–1918. Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts (head of Collections of the Imperial War Museums' photography archive) and co-editor of Cecil Beaton have assembled and precisely identified some 500 pages of images that will evoke every emotion of which a human is capable. They have written brief introductory and concluding essays--and even briefer introductions to each of the five major divisions--as well as multidimensional chronologies. But mostly, the images, arranged chronologically, speak eloquently for themselves. We see soldiers marching off to battle, enduring in trenches, lying wounded or dead, standing behind barbed wire in prison camps. We see them firing weapons, flying aircraft, riding horses, driving the first primitive tanks, sharing cigarettes and coffee, sleeping, wearing gas masks. We also see some photos from the homefront: laborers in a munitions factory, refugees on the road, a French child weeping in front of a damaged piano in the street. Most people we see are Everyman and Everywoman, but there are some arresting images of T.E. Lawrence, Kaiser Wilhelm and Baron von Richthofen (the Red Baron), among other notables. (Some of Lawrence's own photographs are included.) The editors provide images of ships at sea--including submarines--of airplanes on the ground and aloft, of a zeppelin floating only feet above the ground. But what most depresses as the images amass their enormous cumulative power is the destruction--of life (9 million dead), of health (countless wounded), of property (a Madonna nearly knocked from the roof of a church) and of the natural world (forests fractured)--and some surprising beauty: artillery shells in flight by night.

A coffee table book for sure as this hardcover book contains 504 pages, is 12" x 12" and weighs a hefty 8 pounds!

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