Teacher | Student
Originally produced in: France
Also available in: en

Curricular level

Third grade level (France) – History: “World Wars and totalitarian regimes (1914 – 1945). Chapter 1 – World War I : expecting a total war (1914-1918) “, “Secondary school curriculum. History-Geography & Civic Education curriculum”, The official report of the Ministry of National Education, special n° 6, August 28, 2008, p. 41

Documents 1a & 2b could be used in the last grade of the primary school (CM2): Humanities, History: “The 20th century and our time. Violence in the 20th century. The two main world battles.”. France


World War I (WWI) is considered as the first modern war because of the use of new weapons and massive violence. Illustrated press, especially L’Illustration and Le Miroir, which applied “brainwashing” tactics during the first months of WWI in order to present the enemies as devils, offered realistic documentation, even if sometimes it served some prearranged purposes. Illustrated press published official military photographs and amateur photographs in order to show war conditions to the readers.


Knowledge of the main periods of WWI and the main military actions on the Western Front

Conceptual Objectives

  • To learn the following notions: propaganda (”brainwashing”), censorship.
  • To learn some examples of illustrated press during WWI.

Methodological Objectives and Skills

  • Describe and analyse a photograph.
  • Find some clues and put forward hypotheses about conditions in which the photographs were taken, the editing of the photographs and their publication and dissemination.
  • Describe and analyse a layout of a photograph.
  • Compare and show links between some iconographic documents and texts and write a synopsis.

Suggestion of Activities

The choice of selected photos deliberately excludes photographs of dead people and severely injured bodies, which are frequently published in illustrated press. In “Le Miroir”, from the beginning of the photography competition, one may observe an increasing number of sensational photographs (see for example: issues from May, 9 and 23, 1915 – June 6, 1915 – December 26, 1915 – May 21, 1916 – October 8 and 15, 1916... (http://www.1914-1918.fr).

After analyzing iconographic documents which present the situation on the Western Front, the students or the teacher should arrange the four documents, extracted from the issues of “Le Miroir” from the summer 1915, according to the chronology of WWI.

“Le Miroir”, as a periodical, is not available online. However, the photographs published in each weekly issue can be viewed on the website: 1914-1918: WWI in photography (http://www.1914-1918.fr). Moreover, the teacher could show some extracts on the screen or give the students some articles to read. These articles can are extracted from daily or weekly newspapers published during WWI. The newspapers available online thanks to the French National Library include: “Le Petit Journal”, “Le temps”, “Le Figaro”, “L’Humanité” (http://www.bnf.fr/fr/collections_et_services/anx_pres/a.historiques_titres_de_presse.html), “J’ai vu”...

Each of these iconographic documents should be carefully described and analysed (frame, framing, shooting angle, the point of view, focus, composition...) alone. Then, the students should analyse the layout of the photograph: the title, the caption, the choice of pages on which the photograph was published (example: documents 1 and 2 were published in the middle of the magazine, on a double page). And then, compare it with other documents.

Sometimes, referring to the questions, the teacher should suggest studying the lexical aspect of the relevant texts.

Studying the position of the photographer during the shot is quite interesting for the students. First of all, it allows them to hypothesize about a possible photograph manipulation. Something may be hidden or out of shot (the photograph was often taken before or after an action because the photographer had to put away his camera to take his weapon). Furthermore, the reader feels empathy, which is the aim of the newspaper.

The objective is to make students understand that press photography, even if it shows real facts, is not an objective picture of the real life, but it is not always a “fake” either. A “fake” or a posed photograph, when we have some details about the context in which it was taken and published, gives us as much information as a neutral one. This collection of texts and other evidence facilitates making people aware of advantages and drawbacks of a photographic report. This collection can be developed with pictures available on the Internet. Facing a proposal of purchasing photographic documents or entering a competition poses a problem to a professional photographer, especially with regards to the photographic section of the army, and an amateur one. Why is a photographer interested in publishing his photographs in a newspaper?

Studying texts, regardless whether preceded with studying photographs or not, facilitates introducing the question of “propaganda” and censorship. These notions can be studied together and related to the main warring parties fighting on the Western Front.

On basis of these four photographs, students write a report and an academic article, referring to all the questions viewed previously. In order to make the task easier, students could use the title and the caption of each discussed photograph (or other photographs) extracted from Le Miroir or L’illustration or from their textbook.

The course will not be complete without a study of modern war photography. There are two possibilities:

  • analysing photographic reports published in the press
  • analysing photographic works exhibited in galleries, especially those that have a documentary character.

During the indispensable introduction, the students should discover the works of Bruno Serralongue (http://www.brunoserralongue.com/) who creates reports on the margins of events, without press accreditation and who works with photographs cropped according to the needs of the newspaper layout (see Bruno Serralongue’s exhibition: Société de l’information et Témoins d’histoire in Centre Photographique d’Ile-de-France http://www.cpif.net/, educational paperbacks are free on demand).analysing photographic works exhibited in galleries, especially those that have a documentary character.

The former approach is slightly different from the one proposed by “Le Miroir” photographers;; thus, after a study of one or more photographs (frame, framing, the point of view, make up, etc.) together with their titles, captions, copyright (comparison image / text, etc.), we suggest a photographic comparison of the same event as presented in different newspapers and periodicals.

The second approach consists in studying works, single “views” on the event of war comparing photographs published by the same photographer (for example Robert Capa, James Natchtwey, Don McCullin...) in the press or in an album or displayed at an exhibition (see for example albums edited by Reporters sans frontières: http://www.rsf.org).

Critical analysis can be carried out before or after the study of, for instance :

Suggestion of Evaluation

Evaluation can be carried out in various forms of synthesis. Students should be able to:

  • analyse a photograph using appropriate vocabulary: frame, framing, the point of view, shooting position, focus, composition...
  • put forward hypotheses about the shooting position
  • put forward hypotheses about the layout and the intentions behind the choice of the photograph and its position on the page
  • locate the photograph in the approximate historical and geographical context

Additional and Interdisciplinary Tasks

On photographs and war pictures, in order to show students that WWI photography is not always black and white:

Beurier Joëlle, Images et violence 1914-1918. Quand le Miroir racontait la Grande Guerre…, Nouveau monde, 2007.

Cazals Rémy, 1914-1918. Images de l’arrière-front. Raoul Berthelet, lieutenant et photographe, Privat, 2008.

Didier Christophe, Orages de papier 1914-1918: Les collections de guerre des bibliothèques, Somogy, 2008.

Gervereau Laurent, Montrer la guerre ? Information ou propagande, Paris, Scérén-CNDP – Isthme éditions, Collection Pôle Photo, 2006.

La Grande Guerre vue par les artistes et les écrivains (1914-1918), J’ai lu Librio, 2006.

Lecerf Léon, 1914-1918 Regard d’un médecin militaire, Charles Hérissey, 2005.

Miquel Pierre, 14-18 : mille images inédites, Chêne, 1998.

Verney Jean-Pierre, Pecnard Jérôme, La guerre de 1914-1918 en relief : l’album de la Grande Guerre, Les Arènes, 2004.

Verney Jean-Pierre, Pecnard Jérôme, La guerre de 1914-1918 en relief : l’album de la Grande Guerre, Les Arènes, 2004.

Voir, ne pas voir la guerre: histoire des représentations photographiques de la guerre, Paris, Somogy, BDIC, 2001.

All of theses works have been many times reproduced. It’s quite easy to find amateur WWI snapshot photographs or postcards. One of the most famous photographers was René Pilette (cf. La représentation du soldat pendant la Grande Guerre, http://crdp.ac-amiens.fr/historial/soldat/) who sold his photographs to newspapers like “J’ai vu” and “Matin”.

German, English, Italian, and Polish: Additionally, conduct a survey on illustrated periodical newspapers in different warring countries.

Literature: In all of these warring countries, many writers have described war conditions in reports. In France, we have selected some extracts to be compared with photographs, or read by the students, for example:

Alain (Chartier Émile), Souvenirs de guerre, Paris, Paul Hartmann, 1937. Les classiques des sciences sociales (http://classiques.uqac.ca) en proposent une édition électronique.

(http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/Alain/souvenirs_de_guerre/souvenirs.html). Voir notamment le chapitre LXXIII « Tirs de nuit » où Alain évoque la photographie aérienne comme moyen de repérage.

Apollinaire Guillaume, Calligrammes. Poèmes de la paix et de la guerre (1913-1916), Poèmes à Lou [Ombre de mon amour], Paris, Gallimard La Pléiade, 1956. Voir aussi Becker Annette, Apollinaire et la guerre, Tallandier, 2009.

Barbusse Henri, Le Feu. Journal d’une escouade (1916), réédition, Paris, Folio, 2007.

Céline Louis Ferdinand, Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932), réédition Paris, Folio, 1972.

Cendrars Blaise, La main coupée, Paris, Éditions Denoël, 1946, réédition Folio, 2009.

Chevallier Gabriel, La Peur (1930), réédition Le Dilettante, 2008.

Deauville Max (Maurice Duwez), Jusqu’à l’Yser, Paris, Calman-Lévy, 1917. La Boue des Flandres, Bruxelles, Maurice Lamartin, 1922, réédition d’extraits choisis La Boue des Flandres et autres récits de la Grande Guerre, Labor, 2005.

Delteil Joseph, Les Poilus (1925), réédition Paris, Grasset, 2008.

Daeninckx Didier, Le Der des ders, Folio, 1999.

Dorgelès Roland (Roland Lecavelé), Les Croix de bois (1919), réédition Paris, Le livre de poche, 1975.

Duhamel Georges, Civilisation (1918), réédition Paris, Mercure de France, 2001.

Genevoix Maurice, Ceux de 14 (1949), réédition Points Seuil, 1996.

Giono Jean, Le Grand troupeau (1931), réédition Paris, Folio, 2001.

Londres Albert, Contre le bourrage de crâne, Arléa Poche, 2008.

Mac Orlan Pierre (Pierre Dumarchey), Les Poissons morts (1917), La Fin (1919), repris avec Devant la Meuse (1934), dans Propos d’infanterie, Paris, Fernand Sorlot, 1936 ; Bob bataillonnaire (1919), réédition Le bataillonnaire, Paris, Gallimard NRF, 1989 ; Verdun, Paris, Nouvelles éditions latines, 1935 ; Dans les Tranchées, Paris, Arthème Fayard, 1939.

Meckert Jean, La Marche au canon, Losfeld Joëlle - Arcanes, 2005.

About the destruction of Belgian cities, the illustrated series can be compared with document 1 :

Destrée Jules, Villes meurtries de Belgique. Les villes wallonnes, G. Van Oest et Cie, 1916.

Dumont-Wilden Louis, Villes meurtries de Belgique. Bruxelles et Louvain, G. Van Oest et Cie, 1916.

Nothomb Pierre, Villes meurtries de Belgique. Les villes de Flandre, G. Van Oest et Cie, 1916.

Verhaeren Émile, Villes meurtries de Belgique. Anvers, Malines et Lierre, G. Van Oest et Cie, 1916.

Arts History: In this field, there are many iconographic resources. They can be discussed together with the suggested documents. Apart from Otto Dix and many photographs of ruins easy available on the Internet, we can focus on the artistic mission of the army introduced by the State Secretary of Fine Arts Albert Dalimier (ministerial decree of November 8, 1916): For example Verdun of Félix Valloton (http://www.invalides.org/images/14-18-light%20fiches%20DRHAP/Verdun.pdf).

See the previously mentioned works of Jeff Wall, Raphaël Dallaporta, Eric Baudelaire, Vincent Debanne. But for the beginning of the 20th century, it is essential to compare photography with battle painting, asking the students describe what they can see on the photographs and the paintings.

We also suggest consulting the web site « La couleur des larmes. Les peintres devant la Première Guerre mondiale » (http://www.art-ww1.com/fr/index2.html) which presents a large number of artists whose works are shown together with extracts of texts and studies of works of Victor Prouvé, Emile Boussu, Félix Valloton, Georges Paul Leroux, Joseph Félix Bouchor, etc., as well as the web site “L’Histoire par l’image” (http://www.histoire-image.org/).

  • Artistes en Guerre. La Grande Guerre vue par Méheut & ses contemporains, catalogue de l’exposition du Musée Mathurin Méheut, 2009.
  • Becker Annette, Dagen Philippe, Otto Dix, la guerre, Der Krieg, 5 continents Éditions, Milan / Historial de la Grande Guerre, 2003.
  • Camille Godet, œuvres de guerre 1914-1918, catalogue de l’exposition au Musée du Souvenir des Écoles de Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan, 1999.
  • Ligné André, Le fusil et le pinceau. Souvenirs du poilu René Prud’homme, Alan Sutton Eds, 2007.
  • Otto Dix, dessins d’une guerre à l’autre, Gallimard – Centre Pompidou, 2003.
  • « Peindre la Grande Guerre 1914-1918 », CERMA Cahiers d’études et de recherches du musée de l’Armée, N° 1, 2000.

Filmography is also very impressive. We can select from:

  • Léonce Perret, Une page de gloire, 1915 ; N’oublions jamais, 1918 ; Les Etoiles de gloire, 1919.
  • Charlie Chaplin, Charlot soldat, 1918.
  • Léon Poirier, Verdun. Visions d’histoire, 1928.
  • Jean Renoir, La Grande illusion, 1937
  • Stanley Kubrick, Les Sentiers de la gloire, 1957.
  • Dalton Trumbo, Johny s’en va-t-en guerre, 1971.
  • Jean-Jacques Annaud, La victoire en chantant, 1977.
  • Bertrand Tavernier, La Vie et rien d’autre, 1987.
  • Patrick Cabouat, Fusillés pour l’exemple, 2003.
  • Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Un long dimanche de fiançailles, 2004.

Comics offer a large number of perspectives facilitating the analysis of the representation of war, for example:

  • Comès Didier, L’ombre du corbeau, Le Lombard, 1981.
  • Daeninckx Didier, Tardi Jacques, Varlot soldat, L’Association, 1999.
  • David B., La lecture des ruines, Dupuis, 2001.
  • De Metter & Catel, Le sang des Valentines, Casterman, 2004.
  • Dumontheuil Nicolas, Le Roi cassé, Casterman, 2005.
  • Galandon Laurent, Nicaise Viviane, Le Cahier à fleurs, Bamboo, 2010.
  • Glogowski Philippe, Ypres 1916-1918. Le cahier du sergent Henry, Éditions du Triomphe, 2000.
  • Junker Nicolas, Le Front, Treize étrange, 2003.
  • Rabaté Pascal, Tolstoï Alexis, Ibicus, Vent d’ouest, 1998.
  • Tardi Jacques, Adieu Brindavoine suivi de La Fleur au fusil, Casterman, 1974.
  • Tardi Jacques, C’était la guerre des tranchées, 1914-1918, Casterman, 1993.
  • Tardi Jacques, Verney Jean-Pierre, Putain de guerre, T. 1 1914, 1915, 1916, T. 2 1917, 1918, 1919, Casterman, 2008 et 2009.