22 May 2020

Glass plate negatives from The Great War

Stereoviews of the mobilisation in Nevers, France

Category: Stereoviews   Tags: WWI
Glass plate negatives from The Great War - Black & White Photography and Stereoscopy Blog

I found 21 glass plate negatives with stereo images of the First World War. The slides provide an interesting insight into the mobilisation of the French army during the first weeks of the conflict.

The collection is special for two reasons. First, the glass plate negatives are numbered and the numbers correspond to location, unit names and numbers and dates written on the storage boxes. This makes the collection interesting from a historic point of view. The second reason is that the photos are made with glass plate negatives in the 8x18cm format. This format was popular from 1850 to 1890 but was replaced by the more compact formats 45x107mm and 6x13cm. Most stereoviews of the conflict use these compact formats and 8x18cm glass plates are rare.

The glass plate negatives

The negatives are stored in two boxes numbered with the roman numbers XXX and XXXI. A total of 34 titles have been written on the covers of the boxes. It seems that the last 4 titles of box XXXI had a different theme and are not related to the war.

The negatives were offered separately on eBay. As far as I can tell, 24 negatives were offered, so the collection was no longer complete. Unfortunately, I haven't bought all 24 as I was outbid on three negatives. A low resolution scan of the boxes was visible in the auction, but the boxes were not included. I realized that the titles had historical significance so I asked the seller for a high resolution scan. The seller offered me the boxes for free because I bought the majority of the negatives. I'm very happy with that because these simple cardboard boxes with the descriptions of the slides makes this purchase unique.

Glass plate negative WW1

The photographer

The name of the photographer of the photos is unknown. I assume he was a professional photographer. All negatives are numbered and the details of the photos are accurately written on the boxes. All negatives are separated by a slip sheet to protect the emulsion on the glass plates. The photographer took care of indexing and archiving his glass plate negatives.

The use of the large 8x18cm format also indicates that he was probably a professional photographer. This format required a large and expensive camera that was out of reach of the average amateur photographer.

The seller offered more negatives from the same photographer, with a variety of themes and the photos are dated until the 1920s. All slides are in the same glass format and indexed and archived in the same way.

Glass plate negative WW1 - soldiers on their way to the station
Soldiers on their way to the station
August 11, 1914 - Box XXX, Negative 7
Soldiers on their way to the station

The images

The images show the mobilisation of the French army at the station of Nevers in central France. Given its central location, Nevers was probably an important junction for the French railways.

Glass plate negative WW1 - the station of Nevers
The station of Nevers
August 12, 1914 - Box XXX, Negative 9
The station of Nevers


Glass plate negative WW1 - the station of Nevers
The station of Nevers
August 23, 1914 - Box XXXI, Negative 3
The station of Nevers

Most photos were taken in August 1914 and a smaller number in September and October 1914. The first photo was taken on August 9, six days after Germany declared war on France.

The fact that the photos were taken in tree different months may indicate that the photographer lived in Nevers. Many photos are staged, which indicates that the photographer had permission to take photographs. Perhaps the photos were intended for the newspaper or the photographer was hired by the French army to document the mobilisation. I think he was hired by the army because the unit numbers of the troops are noted on the boxes. At the beginning of the war, the French army did not yet have its own photography section. The Section Photographique de l'Armée was established a year later, in May 1915.

It doesn't make sense to document the event with a stereo camera. Stereoviews were primarily intended for entertainment and could only be viewed with a stereoscope. However, it is quite possible that the photographer used half of the stereo photo for publication in a book or newspaper.

The atmosphere on the station looks relaxed. The war was welcomed by many countries and every country thought to be victorious and everyone would be home by Christmas. Maybe the photographer thought so too. The boxes mention Guerre 1914-1915. At that time, no one could have suspected that the conflict would last until 1918.

Some images show soldiers of the Tirailleurs. This unit was part of the Troupes Coloniales (colonial troops). The Tirailleurs was an infantry unit and the soldiers were recruited from the French colonies in Western Africa.

Glass plate negative WW1 - tirailleurs
Tirailleurs
August 13, 1914 - Box XXX, Negative 15
Tirailleurs


Glass plate negative WW1 - stretcher carriers of the Tirailleurs
Stretcher carriers of the Tirailleurs
September 19, 1914 - Box XXXI, Negative 5
Stretcher carriers of the Tirailleurs

Four photos were taken in October 1914. Two images show German prisoners of war in a wagon, guarded by two French soldiers on the foreground. In September, the German advance in France had come to a halt during the Battle of the Marne. The Western Front turned into a horrible trench warfare that would last until November 1918.

Glass plate negative WW1 - German prisoners of war
German prisoners of war
October 5, 1914 - Box XXXI, Negative 10
German prisoners of war

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