Monday, March 16, 2009

Kamerad Im Westen: 221 Bilder

I am always on the lookout for good books on World War I and a friend recently told me about one that he discovered called Kamerad Im Westen: 221 Bilder (Camrade in the West: 221 Pictures). This was published in 1930 by Societats-Verlag in Frankfurt.

A couple things make this interesting. First, it is from the German perspective and second, it follows the war on the western front in chronological order from the first declarations to the final 'hundred days offensive' which brought an end to the war.

The photography is from several documentarians and the quality of imagery is impressive. Several included will be well known to readers but much of this content I haven't seen before. All aspects of war are covered here from the dead (some rather graphic), to the life in trenches, to the destruction of the landscape, technology, and finally images that look to speak of the psychological toll on the soldiers. Each plate is captioned with place and month.

The book reproduces 221 plates in what looks to be gravure on thin paper stock. The graphic design is basic with pages of horizontal images laid vertically and some spreads that contain up to four photos. Even though the orientation of the horizontals as verticals was surely just a practical choice to allow for a bigger plate reproduction, I like that you operate the book by turning it in your hand.

Due to large bulky numbers that count off the sequence, it comes across as a random catalog. Many photos from this period are often subjected to heavy retouching and there is a bit of that going on here too. Much however is presented without such manipulation to plate.

This can still be found on various listings. Note that the cover boards generally get rather beat up and rubbed which is a shame because the cover design is pretty interesting. The binding seems well done on the copies I have seen as it remains strong yet allows the book to lay flat. Worth a look if this is your cup of tea.


Doktor said...

anything else to say then the technical facts? About the pictures I mean. The German perspective etc
Its hard to talk about war photography and even great people like Susan Sonntag have not succeeded (which she admitted and sought to correct). But photography is married with the subject of war as it is with the erotic. Both are difficult to analyze and talk about because they can induce so very different feelings in different people. But if you master that you are pretty good (Sonntag tried both themes and just for the effort has to be applauded I think)

Jeff Ladd said...


I don't know what else to say. As for the finer intricacies on perspective, the book is in German which escapes me.

Double E said...

i find the book interesting on 2 points: 1. photo wise WW1 is a black hole, you don't see many photos from WW1 so this is new material to me (is there an iconic image from the war to end all wars?) 2. interesting to see the war from the German side. On the Allied side there was Jimmy Hare, some Lewis Hine (no combat) - nothing memorable.

Jeff Ladd said...

I am interested in WWI photos mostly for the technical feat in describing action and conditions in the trenches. That was an early war where the medium had the capability to stop action etc. A cold and trivial concern in contrast to the human cost of war but that is what draws me to the work.

Needless to say that Paths of Glory with its tracking shots winding through the trenches has the same mesmerizing effect on me.

Jan V said...

The 'best' or 'most interesting' photobook om WW I I've seen is a sort of catalogue of all Belgian soldiers who died in that 4-year war. It was published in 1919 or 1920 and has really thousands of stamp-sized photographs with only name, rank, place of death and age (average 19 on some pages) as text. When I first saw that book I was really schocked.

And altough it was published nearly 100 years ago it looks like an 'artist book' by contemporary artist Christian Boltanski.

Jan V said...

I forgot to mention that the photos were passport-photostyle(mostly cropped studiophotos of the soldiers in uniform).

Don said...


That sounds fascinating. What is it called?

Errata editions: take note.


Jan V said...


The book belonged to my sister who sold it - without asking me if I was interested - a few years back. But I might be able to find the title.

These kind a of memorial books are not that scarce - everyone in this country had a brother, sun, uncle or father that died in that war - but this one in particular was the most interesting I've ever seen.

It's true that not a lot of 'good' photography books were published after WW I but there is certainly a lot of photographic material available. I have a small collection of photographs from that period and amongst them are a series of aerial photographs of battlefields near Ypres (in Belgium) full of bomb craters off different sizes. Nothing was left standing. Think of golf courses with bunkers only. To me they are some of the best examples of war photography (think of Sophie Ristelhueber's 'Fait').

Jeff Ladd said...

Thanks Jan...on a somewhat related note, just the other day I saw a photo history type book in which the author was drawing a comparison between the Man Ray/Marcel Duchamp "Dust Breeding" photo and an aerial photo taken by Edward Steichen during WWII.

I forget what book it was...or even where I saw it.

Stuart Alexander said...


I saw that too. I thought it was in the catalogue for the Sophie Ristelhueber exhibition currently at the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Anonymous said...

I have the exact same book.
Curiously i bought it in Portugal in a antique market. It was mixed with magazines and old furniture.
Cost me 4 Euro.
It's an impressive picture documentary of the Great War.