Images of War: New Zealand and the First World War in photographs, by Glyn Harper, (Harper Collins, 2013), 399 pp., $99.99
‘You were in the Great War?’ I said. ‘Tell me about that.’
‘I’ve been in all the wars,’ Johnston said, ‘but I couldn’t tell you anything about it.’
‘You won’t talk about it?’
‘I couldn’t tell you anything even if I did. It wasn’t anything. You wouldn’t understand unless you saw it. Even if you did see it you wouldn’t understand it.’
Man Alone (1939), by John Mulgan
Images of War, a tombstone-sized book, a coffee-table tester, is the overgrown bastard brat of a rather better publication by the same author that came out five years earlier, primarily re-issued, we assume, to cash in on the Great War nostalgia market. A ‘stunning’ large-format book, says the blurb. I am duly stunned. This tome weighs in at 3 kilos (according to our bathroom scales), and has a grey cover that looks thick enough to stop bullets. The cover design is of a singular unattractiveness, with lettering masking a fine photo of Kiwi soldiers looking out at us, which has been combined with a design of another photo of men scampering across a battlefield to their grey death.
The book’s archive of photographs was largely made largely possible because the technology of the time had recently enabled the vest-pocket-sized camera, placed in the hands of any untrained operator, to produce photos of an acceptable quality. Kodak’s slogan ‘You press the button, we do the rest’ had been around for a while and had beome a practical reality around the time the ‘Great War’ began.
Many soldiers involved in World War I set out to document their experience, at least partially, usually without authorisation or censorship (by the time of World War II regulations were far stricter). So this work pays tribute to a unique and epic collective effort; it’s a combined personal view of the disastrous 1914–18 conflict. [Read more…]