Photography in War
"...We are engaged in a great war...." Lincoln challenges photographers today. We, too, are engaged in a great war, which will change the face of history. How may photographers use their skill in this momentous hour of destiny?
Make no mistake, photography--and every other human craft--will be used to the full in the war effort. The arts as well as the sciences will mould victory. The tendency in some quarters to lay aside culture for the duration is a surrender to fascism--under fascism, culture has been laid aside permanently.
In what respects can photography integrate itself in the war effort? Aside from technical military functions, the uses to which photography may be put are as broad as the picture of life under new conditions of war. Ours is an hour which will strike but once--and after that, history moves on with incredible rapidity. In later years, we shall wish to know what this crisis of mankind looked like; we shall need to refresh memory of the visual aspect of the time which saw the end of fascism and the flowering of the democratic idea.
How could we understand the blood, tears and toil of our stupendous Civil War without the photographs of Brady? Look on the ruins of Richmond, or the Confederate sharpshooter dead in a trench--there is the human visual reality of war.
Today, we understand this in propaganda. War photographs from the fronts make instantaneous communication. They show ravages of war--destruction of human life, enforced migration from home and hearth. They show the heroic defenders of freedom and the victories of our armies --or their gallant retreats. The reality of war is clear through such reportage.
But the war is not fought in sections; it is a unified action. Armies at the front are but the foremost expression of the peoples at the rear. At the rear, are factories and all the multiple activities which arm, clothe, feed and transport armies. The rear is thus the total of all of our citizens--the whole American people engaged in war production and war living. Here is the core of contemporary history--the support the peoples give their armies.
Life today has changed in many visible respects. Take our city of New York. On the streets, traffic is loss congested. At night, the streets are darker - every other street light is extinguished. Times Square's glowing electric signs are gone. Lights above the fifteenth floor must be shut off at night. Men in uniform are a frequent part of crowds. Air raid wardens are a familiar sight. Along motor highways leading out of the city are signs like "Civil 509" indicating an evacuation route. The parkways are posted: "Military vehicles keep to the outside lane." These are simple examples of how war strikes home in our own community.
The future will want to know about this. Here is the function of the historian. But the photographer lives today, not tomorrow; he wants his work to be seen today, not only by posterity. The value for the future of photography of war living today is undisputed. But what of now?
It seems logical that if a photographer takes good enough photographs of what is happening today, he can find an outlet for them. The newspaper PM has shown how events of daily life make good copy. Though factory scenes and production activity generally are barred the civilian photographer, he can still make use of every day life. Here on the home front, the war will be won, and here the war may be photographed, striking roots deep into the existence of all our people.