Autochromes Lumière

The First World War

The Section photographique de l'armée
The Section photographique de l'armée [The Army Photographic Division], or S.P.A., was created in the spring of 1915 by a joint decision of three ministries: the War Ministry, the Ministry of Public Instruction and Arts, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The photographers recruited to be military operators were all professionals from the photographic studios under the Chambre syndicale de la photographie [Employers' Association of Photography]. Their missions were either financed by the War Ministry or the Grand quartier general, who would give them precise orders. They worked with their own equipment using mostly three formats of glass plates: 6x13cm, 9x12cm and 13x18cm. In the field, the operators had to move about with their equipment, as well as with a reserve of glass plates, which were cumbersome and fragile. They were not mobile enough to work close to the military action without risking their lives, thus their photographs tend to capture the scenes behind the lines. The collected work of the S.P.A. comprises tens of thousands of glass plate negatives conserved at the Etablissement de communication et de production audiovisuelle de la défense (E.C.P.A.D.) and at the Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine. For the most part the plates are in black and white, only some photos were made in colour upon specific order, or by the initiative of the photographers who sometimes took one or two Autochromes in addition to their usual black and white photographs. The infrequent use of Autochromes by these military photographers can be explained by the lengthy exposure time required, which was a difficult requirement to meet given the constraints of daily life at the front.

The Military Operators
Among the operators who worked for the photographic division, only four took Autochromes, as attested to by the service archives: Paul Castelnau, Fernand Cuville, Paul Queste and Albert Samama-Chikli. During their service Paul Castelnau and Fernand Cuville also worked with the financier Albert Kahn. For each of their Autochrome images they took a second exposure for the Archives de la planète. At the end of the war, the squadron leader Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud became head of the Service photographique et cinématographique de la guerre [Photographic and Cinematographic Service of the War] and remained there until its dissolution in 1919. During this time he built up a collection of Autochromes from the images of the division photographers and those of his own making.

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