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Exhibition illustrates the many important roles that photography played during the First World War
Fernand Cuville (France, 1887–1927), Russian Soldiers at the Convent of Les Cordeliers, February–April, 1917, ink-jet reproduction of original autochrome, 9 × 12 cm. Médiathèque de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, Montigny-le-Bretonneux. CVL00046. © Ministère de la Culture / Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.
OTTAWA.- The National Gallery of Canada marks the centennial of the beginning of the First World War with the exhibition The Great War: The Persuasive Power of Photography. On view from June 27 to November 16, 2014, the exhibition brings together a diverse and remarkable selection of over 400 photographs drawn from national and international collections in an effort to illustrate the many important roles that photography played during the First World War.

Photography’s ability to capture unvarnished reality and sheer volume made it an asset in documenting a war in which there was unprecedented carnage and inexhaustible need.

Although photography was already being used to document armed conflict, the First World War marked a turning point for this medium. Alongside political and military uses of photography, the personal use of cameras by soldiers emerged as a new phenomenon, while studio portraits and personal albums illustrate the major role played by photography in private life. As a whole, these visual records offer an intimate, authentic and comprehensive view of the everyday realities of war.

Through concentrated displays of portraits, stereographs, and aerial and panoramic views, The Great War: The Persuasive Power of Photography illustrates how photography conveyed the reality, the fiction, the ugliness, and the bravery of World War I.

The first part of this exhibition chronicles the transition from peace to war as it examines the personal importance of photographic images to those who served. Authorized Canadian images are presented in a re-creation of a room from the Grafton Galleries 1917 exhibition Canadian Official War Photographs in London, followed by a selection of vintage war photographs by British, Canadian, Australian, French, and German photographers.

The dissemination of official images to the public in the form of popular commercial stereographs is also represented, as are panoramic group portraits of units. The strategic use of photography can be seen in the epic panoramas of battlegrounds and aerial views, as well as in the illustration of propaganda sheets dropped from airplanes and balloons and later published in counter-propaganda publications that appeared after the war.

The Great War: The Persuasive Power of Photography is organized by the National Gallery of Canada with the generous collaboration of the Archive of Modern Conflict, London; Archive of Modern Conflict, Toronto; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Australia; Canadian War Museum, Ottawa; Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa; Neil David MacDonald; Musée de l’Armée, Paris; Ryerson Image Centre, Ryerson University, Toronto; The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections, McMaster University Library; and Wilson Centre for Photography, London.

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