To those who haven’t lived – or aren’t living – through it, war often seems distant, geographically and notionally. We read of sieges, battles, destruction, death and understand how tragic they are, but mere words don’t always fully capture war’s horrors – or, for that matter, its triumphs.
Photographs – along with films and videos – can vividly and unforgettably portray devastation that is almost incomprehensible. They can put a human face, literally, on unspeakable tragedy. (These are the countries that suffered the most civilian casualties in World War II.)
Photographs can also sometimes portray moments of victory, even instances of a certain dark humor.
Astonishingly, the first photographic images of war date back 175 years, to 1847, when an American photographer, his name now long forgotten, used the newly invented French Daguerreotype process to record scenes of the Mexican-American war.
Not long afterwards, in the 1850s, Roger Fenton, a British photographer, took memorable images of the Crimean War. He was followed by New York-born Mathew Brady, who photographed both sides of our own Civil War (and left us iconic portraits of Abraham Lincoln). Another Brit, Ernest Brooks, turned scenes of World War I into stunning works of art, often through the use of silhouettes.
Among the now-famous photographers who recorded World War II are Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Countless memorable images of the conflict, however, were also captured by anonymous or less well-known photographers, often working for wire services or newspapers or even for branches of the armed forces – even though the pictures they produced may live on forever. (Sometimes such pictures are difficult to look at, like these horrifying images of Nazi death camps.)
To assemble a collection of some of the most unforgettable images of World War II, 24/7 Tempo reviewed historical photo archives from sources, including from Getty Images, Picryl, Wikimedia, and the Library of Congress. Some are tragic, some are hopeful, some are simply records of everyday life in wartime.
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