Lest we forget

New Zealanders and Australians all over the world will, tomorrow, commemorate ANZAC Day. As we approach the one hundredth anniversary of Gallipoli, those who were there in those long months have since passed on. For our knowledge of those times we depend, among other sources, on word of mouth, history books, and documentaries.

When I started writing the Open2view blog, I promised myself I would save that cliché ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ for as long as possible. Alas it only took three weeks to give in, and here we are.

The thing about clichés is they are often as true as they are overused. While those who were there are here no longer, the photos our soldiers captured paint a dramatic picture of what it was they went through, 24/7, on our behalf.

There are some great galleries online where you can see photos of the war effort, including:

The Press – with plenty of glass plate negatives of our soldiers training before embarking. You can also buy prints of these from Press Pics.

New Zealand History Online – their media gallery features photos from the Gallipoli landing and campaign, as well as paintings and memorials.

National Library NZ on Flickr – our National Library has many Flickr photo galleries that one could get lost in for hours, if one wasn’t working.

And – because we have great respect for our Aussie friends – this gallery of intimate images from ABC News.

Looking through these, while deeply appreciative, I could not help but wonder why a soldier would for one second swap his gun for a camera. It had slipped my mind that, thanks to Kodak, the handheld camera had become immensely popular and accessible by the turn of the twentieth century – making it far easier (though still by no means easy) to make a visual account of their experiences.

In the book ‘Early New Zealand Photography: Images and Essays’, historian Sandy Callister wrote about Kodak’s marketing of themselves to New Zealanders as the “visual historian of the war”. Indeed, according to a 2008 Listener interview with Dr Callister, one of the ads of the time read “take a Soldier’s Kodak with you and bring back your own priceless record of the great war”.

The image that conjured of a fantastic adventure was quickly dispelled in the days and months that followed. But thanks to technology, and our soldiers, the First World War became the first major conflict photographed by those who lived it.

Our historical records are a lot richer for their efforts.

Plainly ANZAC Day is not your typical day off; if you’re looking to attend a memorial service tomorrow, the RSA’s website has made it easy to find one nearby.

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