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- 03 -132015

“One hundred years of photography in the French Armed Forces”. Second episode. Albert Samama-Chikli, a pioneer of war cinema.

Signing up voluntarily in 1915, Albert Samama-Chikli became an operator for the army’s photographic section (SPA). Taken for documentary and image propaganda purposes, his shots — like those of all the operators in the section — were subject to strict official control. And yet the scenes he photographed reveal all the brutality of the war and the men’s submission to the elements.

Cadavre français gisant dans la boue aux abords du fort de Douaumont, Meuse, 24 décembre 1916 © ECPAD / Albert Samama-Chikli

Sur la côte 304, à l'ouest de Verdun, des soldats du 87e régiment d'infanterie (RI) occupent la tranchée dévastée de la demi-lune, conquise lors de l'attaque du 17 juillet 1917, Meuse © ECPAD / Albert Samama-ChikliThe earth, omnipresent, constitutes a daily enemy. In the photograph where French soldiers and their personal belongings blend into the soil of a conquered trench, the earth appears to be as much part of the precarious environment of the combatants as the fighting. Near Verdun, the remains of a French soldier, abandoned near a stagnant waterhole, illustrate the harshness of the war and the toughening of the fighters, who look indifferent to the fate of their comrade fallen in battle. The censorship committee prohibited suchDans le camp de transit de Souilly, distribution de couvertures aux prisonniers allemands capturés dans le secteur de Verdun, Meuse, 19 décembre 1916 © ECPAD / Albert Samama-Chikli images from being circulated to avoid compromising the morale and the support of the nation. Samama-Chikli made several images around the corpse, showing that the photograph was not taken secretly and illustrating the complexity of controlling the shots taken on the ground. However, the photographer’s eye also knew how to capture lighter moments, such as the group of Portuguese soldiers apparently in a joyfully chaotic hurry to leave the boat that has brought them to Brest under the eye of a marine rifleman indifferent to their excitement.
Arrivée de soldats du corps expéditionnaire portugais destinés à combattre en France, Brest, 6 février 1917 © ECPAD / Albert Samama-Chikli

Photo credits : @ ECPAD / Albert Samama-Chikli

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