The Commons on Flickr is a place where some of the great cultural institutions are joining together to publish classic photographs on-line. There, our own Powerhouse Museum has been displaying early 1900s era Tyrrell Collection photographs and mid-20th Century Clyde engineeringg pics.
Photographs placed in The Commons group must be of "no known copyright", thus making them available for download and broad use, instead of mainly being locked away in a museum or library attic or little known corner of an institutional website. It's a wonderful cultural resource and importantly a place where the institutions are trying to engage the public at large and enlist help in describing and tagging the photographic collections.
A newer member of The Commons is the National Media Museum (of the United Kingdom), which I had never heard of until this week. It has an outstanding historic photography collection, so I was curious enough to explore their home website.
The writing underneath the photograph is,
"Supports going up after battle to relieve the Front Trenches, note the three observation balloons above the bright cloud."
|Title:||'Supports going up after battle...', c 1917.|
|Group of soldiers marching towards the front line, taken by an unknown photographer. An atmospheric photograph of marching Australian troops reflected in a pool of water. This photograph was probably taken during the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Paschendale, which was fought in very wet and muddy conditions. The full caption reads: 'Supports going up after battle to relieve the front trenches, note the three observation balloons above the bright cloud.' This photograph is from an album called 'Official Australian War Photographs', produced by the Australian War Records Section which was established by the British government in 1917. The British government in World War One recognised the importance of photographs, both as propaganda and as historical records.|
Incidentally, the Australian War Records Section was effectively the forerunner of our great Australian War Memorial.
Although it was headquartered in London, it was not formed by the British Government, rather by the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.).
One other interesting thing about this photograph is that it is credited to, "an unknown photographer."
They should be forgiven, for they know not what they do. To those familiar with World War I Australian military photography, it is unmistakably the work of Frank Hurley. Hurley worked very close to the front lines, and his photographs were noted for their dramatic composition. Controversially, he was known to make composite photographs to enhance the visual values. That is, he sometimes superimposed or retouched photographic negatives.
Now, I think it is unmistakeably Hurley's work - but is it? Let's check the largest repository of Australian World War I photography @ the Australian War Memorial.
The AWM has many Hurley photographs in its collection, and includes this:
Hurley, James Francis (Frank) Place made:
Western Front: Western Front (Belgium), Menin Road Area, Hooge Date made:
5 October 1917 Physical description:
Black & white Summary:
Supporting troops of the 1st Australian Division walking on a duckboard track near Hooge, in the Ypres Sector. As they passed toward the front line to relieve their comrades, whose attack the day before won Broodseinde Ridge and deepened the Australian advance. Copyright:
Status to be assessed
It is worth noting that no observation balloons appear in this image. However we must also note that the AWM only puts low resolution images up on its website from where I downloaded this image, as part of its commercial strategy. Could it be that in higher resolution the print held by the AWM shows the observation balloons?
Let's look at another source of Hurley images. The National Library of Australia holds many of Hurley's papers, and a large collection of his negatives.
(NLA record ID 23478229)
The caption of the negative at the NLA reads, "Infantry moving forward to take up front line positions at evening, their images reflected in a rain-filled crater at Hooge, October, 1917"
You will notice once again, that there are no observation balloons visible on the negative.
Looks like we have discovered that the (top) photograph held by the National Media Museum of the UK is one of Hurley's infamous composite or manipulated images.
Colin Harding of the National Media Museum has drawn my attention to the upcoming exhibition of war photography Memory Of Fire at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2008 which will feature some of Frank Hurley's WWI photographs. See here and here.
Colin has also advised me that more photographs from the album "Official Australian War Photographs" may be found by going to:
and searching for "Australian War". WARNING: The photograph album contains graphic images of war, and is not suitable for children, and some adults may also find it disturbing.
Looking at the album photographs, there are several which also look like Hurley's work, and given some more time, I'll see if I can confirm that.