Socio-Political Climate and the Evolution of Techniques in War Photography: An Exploration of the Validity of Photographic Reproductions as Reliable Historic Documents

Dorothe Santistevan


Focusing on the American Civil War (1861-1865), World War II (1939-1945), and the Vietnam War (1955-1975), this paper will investigate the ways in which war photography has evolved not only in regards to technical advances, but also in response to the ever changing socio-political climate of the country.  Since, in many cases, specific resources about selected photographs are sparse, any conclusions drawn heavily depend on analysis of the images within the context of the socio-political situation.  By using primary source material (including access to quality photographic reproductions and historical documents and film) as well as scholarly research into the history of photography as it is situated in times of war, this study will draw conclusions through analysis of iconic photographs from each time period.  The inherent reliability of photographs in conjunction with their function in times of war is a connection that is rarely drawn in scholarly research, although the two ideas are drawn separately.  This paper joins the two ideas, pulling together the relationship between war, each artist’s truth, the public’s perception of their truth, and how that collective cultural interpretation can move people.  Through staging of dead soldiers to create an emotionally heightened image, manipulating the German people into supporting a despotic leader, or negating support of the Vietnam War within the United States, these photographs of conflict have had the power to sway the public into believing and supporting a cause, thereby making photographic reproduction the most influential form of accessible visual culture.


Photography; War Photography; Civil War; World War II; Vietnam War; Authenticity; Art History; Art; History

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