One of two wartime albums compiled by Siegfried Thannhauser during his service in the First World War, Drei Ähren: 1915 provides us with an unseen photographic account of Alsace during one of the most conflicted periods in the region’s history in over twenty unique photographs. Largely autobiographic, this collection focuses on individual perspective in a conflict that impacted the lives of millions. This digital presentation of Drei Ähren: 1915 aims to preserve portions of the album in their original layout as intended by its creator while widening the audience and encouraging the interpretation of this photographic account of wartime Alsace.
By 1914, Alsace was an epicenter of regional conflict between French and German territorial ambitions. Traditionally a French territory, the region of Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by the recently unified German Empire following the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Members of opposing alliances, France to the Triple Entente and Germany to the Central Powers, the First World War was an opportunity for both powers to either reclaim or maintain control over this region after 1914. Stationed in the Alsatian town of Drei Ähren settled within the Vosges Mountains in 1915, Thannhauser witnessed and documented a defining moment in the region’s history and the culmination of a major dispute between his own Germany Empire its Allied opposition in the early years of the First World War.
We can infer from the presentation and contents of the album that Siegfried Thannhauser had a very clear idea of the display he intended for his work. Organized one photograph to a page, each piece recounting his service in Drei Ähren is accompanied by a caption; impecable cursive written in silver ink on black matte cardboard by Thannhauser himself. The original layout of Drei Ähren: 1915 provides insight into both Thannhauser’s perception of wartime Alsace and acts as a guide to his immediate surroundings for contemporary viewers. Spanning the movement of Germany military and field hospital personel over the course of a year, Thannhauser’s subjects range from Alsatian landscapes to Thannhauser seen standing in a trench. The album and photographs within remain in astounding condition as both a prized piece of family history by Thannhauser’s descendants and an incredible photographic narrative of one man’s experience in wartime Alsace to twenty-first century learners.
When aiming to best replicate Drei Ähren: 1915, the task of maintaining the original intended progression of the album with the resources available was pertinent. After time with the original album, digital versions of photographs were kept in the order in which they were found with special attention to the delicately labeled captions – two factors which illustrate Thannhauser’s intended presentation of the content throughout. Focusing on preserving Thannhauser’s authorial voice, captions were translated as best possible, bringing words images to best recreate Thannhauser’s authorial voice, creating short descriptions such as “Im Schutzgraben” or, “In the Trench”. Creating the option to view each piece as it originally appeared on the page or viewing the photograph in detail, learners may experience the original layout of Drei Ähren: 1915 and view each photograph of wartime Alsace at a closer range. By best recreating the originally intended layout of the album, this project aims to maintain the individual narrative present in this powerful photographic representation of Alsace in the midst of the First World War.
A near hundred years following Thannhauser’s creation of this comprehensive compilation of photographs, Drei Ähren: 1915 gives twenty-first century viewers the opportunity to interpret this visual representation wartime Alsace though the perspective of Siegfried Thannhauser. Thannhauser’s photography gives us insight into his own experience of the First World War, providing an individual’s representation a conflict defined by the decisions of nations. Through the the widened availability of this exemplary album, we gain the ability to interact with otherwise inaccessible primary sources and facilitate a more thorough understanding of individual narrative within the context of the First World War.