Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The First World War in Color

Französiche  Truppen rücken aus zur Front
(French Troops Back to the Front)
Paris, France 1914

2014 marks the centennial of the beginning of the First World War. "The War To End All Wars" killed an estimated 6 million people, left millions homeless, and sowed the seeds for the Second World War. To mark this somber anniversary, the Willy-Brandt Haus in Berlin is showing Der Erste Weltkrieg in Farbe (The First World War in Color), an exhibition of 93 color photographs from the First World War. Last year, the Willy-Brandt Haus celebrated the 125th anniversary of the National Geographic Society by exhibiting 55 of the magazine's iconic photographs. That exhibition was a huge success, and the Willy-Brandt hopes to repeat that success.

By all accounts, the First World War was a horrific blood bath that killed an entire generation of men. So I was surprised that this exhibition failed to convey any of the carnage and futility I that associate with the war. And while I found the photographs interesting, they were more picture postcard than documentary. (Of course, there are some truly gruesome pictures too.)

Taken primarily by French and Australian photographers, the photos were used primarily as propaganda and present a sanitized version of war that's disconnected from the reality of the louse-plagued trenches of the front. (For a more realistic view of the First World War, I recommend Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. It's a powerful and poignant look at the "Great War" and its aftermath. A true classic!)

Der Erste Weltkrieg in Farbe is free to the public (passport required for entrance) and is open Tuesday-Sunday 12-6PM until June 1, 2014.

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