Anything to Get the Shot: Photographers and War

In the latest installment of our occasional series on challenging photography, Anything to Get the Shot, I’m going to highlight one of the more dangerous choices a photographer can make: covering war.

Photographers during the U.S. Civil War faced serious challenges in their work. Due to the size of the camera equipment and long exposure times, they were not able to get close and take photos during battles. Large, fragile glass plate negatives and portable darkroom wagons added additional limitations. Note the size of the camera featured in the photo below (and a few glass plates ready to become negatives leaning against the cabin).

Quarters of photographers attached to Engineer Corps. in front of Petersburg, Va., March, 1865. Photo, 1865. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.33166

Quarters of photographers attached to Engineer Corps. in front of Petersburg, Va., March, 1865. Photo, 1865. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.33166

And here we see the entire crew and wagons needed to carry the supplies and the portable darkroom for photographer Sam A. Cooley, who was attached to the Tenth Corps of the U.S. Army.

Unknown location. Wagons and camera of Sam A. Cooley, U.S. photographer, Department of the South.  Photo, between 1860 and 1865. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.03518

Unknown location. Wagons and camera of Sam A. Cooley, U.S. photographer, Department of the South. Photo, between 1860 and 1865. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.03518

Cameras got faster and smaller and, inevitably, new wars gave photographers a chance to try them in the field. Here we see the Office of War Information’s Nick Parrino traveling with the military on a convoy during World War II, camera in hand:

Somewhere in the Persian corridor. A United States Army truck convoy carrying supplies for Russia. OWI (Office of War Information) photographer Nick Parrino on the jeep which he rode in making a photographic record of the first run by an all-American convoy. Photo, 1943. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d29648

Somewhere in the Persian corridor. A United States Army truck convoy carrying supplies for Russia. OWI (Office of War Information) photographer Nick Parrino on the jeep which he rode in making a photographic record of the first run by an all-American convoy. Photo, 1943. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d29648

Photographer Toni Frissell, better known for her work in fashion photography to that point, took photos during World War II for various groups, including the American Red Cross and the Women’s Army Corps.

[Toni Frissell, sitting, holding camera on her lap, with several children standing around her, somewhere in Europe] Photo by Toni Frissell, 1945. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.19005

[Toni Frissell, sitting, holding camera on her lap, with several children standing around her, somewhere in Europe] Photo by Toni Frissell, 1945. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.19005

Over there! Skilled workers On the ground behind the lines - In the Air Service. Poster by Louis Fancher, ca. 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g07558

Over there! Skilled workers On the ground behind the lines – In the Air Service. Poster by Louis Fancher, ca. 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g07558

During World War I, photographers were among the skilled workers sought for wartime service, as seen in the recruiting poster at right.

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