19 October 2019

The Photographer of Fort Tavannes

Category: Stereoviews   Tags: LSU / SPA / Verdun / WWI
The Photographer of Fort Tavannes - Black & White Photography and Stereoscopy

Most French stereoviews with images of the First World War contain a short description of the image. In best case, it describes the place, subject and a year. However, most descriptions are brief and sometimes even incorrect. This makes it difficult to find out more about the story behind the image.

Sometimes it’s possible to retrieve more information. This applies to photographs made by the photography section of the French army: La Section Photographique de l’Armée (SPA). The SPA was established on May 9, 1915. In a future post I will write more about this unit of army photographers. For now it’s good to know that they produced about 120,000 photos during the war. About 20,000 were stereo photos.

The photographs of the SPA were printed and collected in albums during the war. This collection is known as the Fonds des albums Valois, named after the former location of the archive and reading room at Rue de Valois in Paris. Today, the archive is managed by the Établissement de Communication et de Production Audiovisuelle de la Défense (ECPAD). The majority of the archive is digitized and made available online.

The stereoview in this post is a 45x107mm glass slide and contains the description: L.S.U. Fort Tavannes 1916. Fort Tavannes is one of the forts that encircled the city of Verdun. The German army never captured it during the Battle of Verdun, but it suffered from heavy shelling. The abbreviation LSU refers to the producer of the stereoview: La Stéréoscopie Universelle.

Fort Tavannes - 45x107 stereoview by La Stéréoscopie Universelle
45x107 glass stereoview by La Stéréoscopie Universelle

The same image of Fort Tavannes can be found in the Albums Valois collection. Both images show the same blemishes, which proves they are printed from the same negative.

Fort Tavannes from Albums Valois
Fort Tavannes from Albums Valois (source: La Contemporaine)

The description of the print reads: Fort de Tavannes, Partie du Fort bomardé, Juin 1916 (Fort Tavannes, part of the shelled fort, June 1916). The archive even mentions the name of the photographer: Lieutenant Charbonnier.

Because of this extra information we now know:

  • The photo was taken in June 1916, during the Battle of Verdun
  • It was shot by Lieutenant Charbonnier of the SPA
  • The photo was published as a stereoview by La Stéréoscopie Universelle, which means that the photo in the Albums Valois collection was shot by a stereo camera
  • The photographs of the SPA found their way to commercial publishers like LSU
  • The used stereo camera probably supported the 6x13cm format. The print in Album Valois shows details on the left that are not visible on the stereoview. This suggests that the smaller 45x107 mm stereoview is a cropped print from a larger 6x13cm glass negative.

Another stereoview in my collection shows only the description Fort de Tavannes. Because this photo is also part of the Albums Valois collection, the same metadata can be applied to this stereoview. It seems that both photos were taken one after the other. The handwritten description suggests that this stereoview is published by another publisher.

Fort Tavannes - 45x107
45x107 glass stereoview by unknown publisher
Fort Tavannes from Albums Valois
Fort Tavannes from Albums Valois (source: La Contemporaine)