Rare World War One Colour Photographs by Hans Hildenbrand
Hans Hildenbrand wasone of 19 official German photographers documenting the war, but the only one to shoot in colour. The subject matter includes numerous trench shots showing soldiers standing to, relaxing and manning a Maxim Gun. While others show supply depots backdropped by the ruins of towns and villages. Hildenbrand’s images were taken mostly in the Alsace and Champagne sectors during 1915 and 1916.
Hildenbrand’s film was less sensitive than other contemporary films and required longer exposures as such his subjects would have had to remain still while he took their photograph, meaning that many of the photographs would have been somewhat staged. But this does not detract significantly from their insight into life in the German trenches. Arguably the vividness of the photographs’ colours bring the period to life much faster than the black and white contemporary photographs were are used to seeing of the First World War.
Gervais-Courtellemont’s photograph of a French gun crew c.1914
While Hildenbrand was the only German photographer to use a colour process during the war he has a counterpart in French photographer Jules Gervais-Courtellemont. Gervais-Courtellemont used the Lumiere’s Autochrome technique and took photographs during the battles of the Marne and Verdun. Both Gervais-Courtellemont and Hildenbrand later worked for National Geographic after the war,
The first photograph shows a Farman MF.11 reconnaissance plane which had been adopted by the Armée de l’Air just 2 months before the outbreak of the war. Also used by the British Royal Flying Corps as a bomber it was removed from service in 1915, as it quickly became outdated.
Gervais-Courtellemont also took many photographs of France’s colonial troops, whom contributed some half a million men by the end of the war. Pictured above are Algerian infantry, Senegalese Tirailleurs, Moroccan riflemen and Spahis. As well as the outlandishly uniformed Zouaves other units also seen included men of the 13th Régiment de Chasseurs Alpins, elite specialist troops training in alpine and mountain warfare, as well as a quick-firing Matériel de 75mm Mle 1897 - better known as the French 75.
Gervais-Courtellemont, like Hildenbrand, also documented the evolution of the war torn landscape. The second photograph shows the heavily damaged village of Sermaize-les-Bains during the Battle of the Marne.