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).
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.
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:
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.
During World War I, photographers were among the skilled workers sought for wartime service, as seen in the recruiting poster at right.
- Read Taking Photographs during the Civil War to learn more about the specific challenges faced by these early war photographers.
- View additional images of U.S. Civil War photographers and their equipment at camp and in the field.
- Toni Frissell is one of several women featured for their wartime efforts as correspondents and photographers in the online exhibition Women Come to the Front.
- View the work of and learn more about Helen Johns Kirtland, who took photos at the front during World War I.
- Explore hundreds of World War I era recruiting posters in the Prints and Photographs Division’s collection.