The First World War
Unseen glass photographs of the Western Front
Edited by Carl De Keyzer and David Van Reybrouk
Published by University of Chicago Press. Distributed by Footprint Books
RRP $US65.00 in hardcover; AU$119.00 NZ$120.87
Acclaimed photographer Carl De Keyzer and historian David Van Reybrouk have combined to bring us an evocative look at the Western Front through the medium of previously unseen glass photographs.
Both men were troubled by the way in which the horror of the First World War had become ‘kitsch, a product’. While discussing the practicalities of this book, De Keyzer proclaimed, ‘We have to bring the war closer. We have to rethink remembering’.
It was on this basis that these 100 odd photographs were chosen for inclusion in the book. Selected by De Keyzer from over 10,000 archive images, the photographs have been scanned from the original plates with scratches and other flaws removed. The result is stunning.
The book has been divided into five basic themes with the final section entitled ‘A Disquieting Silence’. Contained within this section are the Vottem Memorial Portraits. These were a series of photographs taken of the 23 Belgians who died during a small skirmish with German soldiers in the village of Vottem on 7 August 1914, just two days after war was declared. The corpses were seated on a chair with their heads held by a local villager. Some might find this uncomfortable and slightly macabre but it does present an interesting point of difference to the normal images of bodies lying in muddy trenches.