“Photographs alone tell the story of each day’s conflicts… even the correspondents at the front are eliminated, but these record with fatelike accuracy the progress of the war.”
Over the course of World War I, Collier & Sons published five volumes of war photography (1915-1919). The title of these volumes eventually changed to reflect the expansion of the war, switching “European War” for “World’s War” after 1918. These books claimed the bold intention of bringing the visuals of the new European war into American homes with distinct integrity, each new edition serving as an update with new photographs. The images inside the first volume (1915) give a unique perspective of the early war, highlighting the development of trenches, new technology, and the impact on local culture. However, the frame provided by these books was purposefully limited; its “fatelike accuracy” captures only what governments at home and abroad wanted the American public to see. The visions of war manufactured within the Collier volumes were affected by layers of censorship and were carefully constructed to be tools of propaganda. They reflect the new ways in which governments during WWI realized how powerfully the medium of photography could shape how people imagined the conflict. The invention of war photography became a powerful mechanism for propaganda. This concept is especially well illustrated in the contrast seen between the 1915 and 1918 editions (the latter published after the US had officially joined the war) which shifts to frame the American forces as uniquely powerful and prepared.
It is important to critically consider these volumes through the lens of American censorship and propaganda. This online exhibition features digitizations of the 1915, 1917, 1918, and 1919 editions of the WWI Collier volumes, as well as pages of analysis and themed galleries.