Over Here to Over There: Wartime and Pre-War Postcard Portraiture

     Inside and outside the context of the First World War, photographic postcard portraiture depicts individuals in the midst of a conflict which shaped the modern world. While postcards grew in popularity in the years preceding the First World War, picture postcards conveyed images and messages at little cost to sender or recipient. To create a more personalized piece, studio photographers could easily produce postcards presenting the portrait of any customer. During the First World War, these pieces served a dual functionality; both as photographic keepsakes of loved ones or family members away at war and as vehicles for the delivery of a personal message. While each piece provides glances into the lives of those living during the First World War, the subjects shown in studio portrait postcards often lack information relating to the context or personal narrative of those shown. This collection of previously undigitized portrait postcards provides learners with examples of wartime media which captured the individual within the greater scope of the First World War.

This selection of four images ranging from stoic men in uniform to weathered brothers in arms present us with the of diversity of scenes created in this medium of wartime media. Result of the ability to personalize each piece at the will of photographer and subject, studio portrait postcards can depict both individuals and relationships to their viewer. The first image in the series displays either husband and wife, or alternately, a man and his daughter placed before a painted backdrop of a nature scene. Deviating from popular perception of wartime portraits containing a single figure, more often than not in uniform, this photograph taken in Paris, France presents the viewer with a relationship rather than an individual. Following the presentation of pairs, the second piece in the selection shows two French soldiers standing with a bouquet placed between them; a visual often accompanying soldiers on their way to the Front in the context of the First World War. The last two images in the selection depict the same French soldier leaning casually upon two different tables in an upscale interior, shown in two differing uniforms. Presenting a selection of images which note the stylistic differences of photographic portraiture of the First World War, these pieces frame the individual in the context conflict often over-defined by numerical values in modern memory. Postcard portraiture maintains a strong significance both inside and outside the context of the First World War to contemporary learners. Removed from their dual functionality within the context of the First World War, these pieces show us representations of the individual within a conflict which effected millions.

Suggested Reading:

  1. WWI Uniforms, Insignia, Distinguishing Marks, Rank, etc.” Last Accessed October 16th, 2012.

    http://freepages.military.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~worldwarone/WWI/Uniforms/index.html#Distinguishing

  2. John Fraser, Propaganda on the Picture Postcard (Oxford Art Journal: Vol. 3, No. 2, Propaganda (Oct., 1980), pp. 39-47, Oxford University Press)

Postcard Portrait of Seated Couple, Paris. Estimated Date: 1914/15

Studio Portrait of Couple from Parisian Studio, France, date unknown. Depicting either a married couple or two family members, this studio postcard deviates from popularly styled studio portraits of the period which feature a single figure in uniform rather than framed beside a family member or partner as seen in this piece.

Two French Soldiers Alongside Bouquet. Estimated Date: 1914/15

Studio Portrait of Two Soldiers, France, Estimated Date: 1914/1918. Another example of wartime postcard portraiture framing two figures, this piece depicts two young French soldiers standing at either side of a floral bouquet. Within the context of the First World War, flower bouquets often accompanied soldiers on their way to the Front, the presence of the bouquet, if not simply decorative, suggests that these two soldiers shown were photographed on their way to war.

French Studio Portrait. Estimated Date: 1914/1918

Postcard Portrait, France, Estimated Date: 1914/1918. A more traditional representation of wartime postcard portraiture, this piece depicts a man in uniform learning on a pedestal matched to a similarly styled interior. Alternately, this could be a studio portrait utilizing a backdrop of an upscale interior with corresponding props.

French Studio Portrait. Same individual seen above. Estimated Date: 1914/18

Postcard Portrait, France, Estimate Date: 1914/1918. Featuring the same man shown above in a strikingly similar pose, this portrait postcard displays a different French uniform than the previous piece. While these who pieces share a number of characteristics including their subject, these portraits were evidently taken at different times as suggested by the difference in uniform and backdrop.

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