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Changing images of war

November 2nd, 2018

Image of soldiers walking along the road during WW1

Ernest Brooks. Battle of the SommeGerman prisoners, 1916. Gelatin silver print, 20 × 25 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2008. 2008/7883

The First World War was a time of mass violence and destruction. It was also a time of evolution for military, aviation and photographic technology. Ahead of Remembrance Day, we’re opening a second rotation of photographs this Saturday in our exhibition, Photography: First World War, 1914–1918.

The exhibition spotlights photography’s role during the war. Thanks to technological advancements, compact cameras became popular for the first time. Along with faster shutter speeds, this allowed civilians, soldiers, military officials and press agencies to document their experience of war in new, more spontaneous ways – making it possible to take a greater range of war-time photographs.

Many photographs in the exhibition are from individuals’ personal photo albums, offering intimate access to images of war rarely seen. In these albums women emerge as critical figures in the conflict. There are photographs of women tending to the wounded on the frontlines and others manufacturing munitions back home. Women were recruited into manufacturing jobs after men, who previously worked in the factories, left to fight in the war.

Here’s a look at some of the captivating images of women at war that you’ll find in the exhibition.

image of photo album of family photos from WW1

Emily Maxwell Stuart. From the album Emily Maxwell Stuart: Photos taken during the War of 1914, 1914–1918. Album: 354 gelatin silver prints, postcards, ephemera, leather cover. Anonymous Gift, 2004. 599.2.2 © 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Emily Maxwell Stuart served as a nurse during the war. Deployed in France, she took and collected photographs, saved her identification documents and letters, and later compiled them into a large album. The album page above shows her time at the Château d’Annel, a mansion converted into a 300-bed hospital for injured soldiers. The album page also shows photographs of friends she made during the war and moments of leisure away from the frontlines.

The exhibition includes a wall of press prints, showing only the front or back of the images. On the front of the image (below), which will not be not visible in the exhibition, a group of women munitions workers celebrate two of their colleagues who have been awarded the Medal of the Order of the British empire.

image of women celebrating while on the homefront during world war 1

The Central Press Photos Ltd. British Munitions Heroines Rewarded. Miss Annie Rose (left) and Miss Lily Smith (right) who have been awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire. Miss Rose has lost two fingers, and Miss Smith has lost her left hand. Despite these handicaps both resumed duties at their own request, 1914–1918. Gelatin silver print, 13.6 x 19 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2004. 2004/749.30 © 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

The reverse of the image (below), which will be visible, tells the story of British Munitions Heroines, highlighting patriotism and support on the home front. The back of the image also reveals these prints as working documents with stamps, captions and markings illustrating how these photographs circulated throughout the war.

image of the back of a photograph with stamp and ink markings

The Central Press Photos Ltd. British Munitions Heroines Rewarded, 1914–1918. Gelatin silver print, 13.6 x 19 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2004. 2004/749.30 © 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Don’t miss the second rotation of Photography: First World War, 1914–1918, which opens Saturday, November 10 and will be on view until April 14, 2019.

The exhibition is located on Level 1 in the Edmond G. Odette Family Gallery (Gallery 128) and the Robert & Cheryl McEwen Gallery (Gallery 129), and is included with General Admission.

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The installation of the AGO’s Photography Collection is generously supported by The Volunteers of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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