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Color Photography Existed During World War I. Here Are Eight Rare Examples.

TASCHEN/Jules Gervais-Courtellemont

This summer marks the centennial of the start of World War I, and, as such, newspapers and magazines around the world have featured in their pages archival images of trenches, and bloody battle scenes from the war years. Rarely, however, do we see color photographs from the first World War, though they do, in fact, exist. Next month, TASCHEN will publish a collection of more than 300 of these color photographs in a collected volume, The First World War in Colour.

The sampling of color photographs below is far from action-packed; the autochrome technology that a handful of pioneering photographers used to capture scenes of soldiers, weapons, vehicles, and rubble required long exposure times and could not effectively record movement on the front lines. Still, these images, most of them carefully composed, render the realities of wartime just as vividly as any action shot could—here, we see in full color the patriotism of a painted warplane, the uniforms of soldiers, and the utter devastation of invaded towns, reminding us once again that the circumstances of that Great War, which seems so long ago, are, too, eerily familiar in our own day.

©TASCHEN/LVR LandesMuseum Bonn/Photo: Hans Hildenbrand
Soldiers pose in a concrete trench.
©TASCHEN/Photo: Jules Gervais-Courtellemont
French warplane, Caudron G3, 1914; WWI marked the first time air warfare played a role in combat.
©TASCHEN/LVR LandesMuseum Bonn/Photo: Hans Hildenbrand
French airship Alsace shot down on 3 October 1915, near Rethel. The crew survived unharmed and were taken prisoner. Airships were not just used for aerial reconnaissance, but also for the bombardment of civilian and military targets.
©TASCHEN/Photo: Jules Gervais-Courtellemont
View across the Meuse of the devastated Verdun.
©TASCHEN/Photo: Jules Gervais-Courtellemont
British ambulance, 1914.
©Collection Mark Jacobs/Photo: Shells-Lafaux
Ammunition depot in France, 1918. The photo was taken on assignment of the American Committee for Devastated France (1917–24). Founded by Anne Morgan, a daughter of financier J. P. Morgan, this committee tried to assuage the suffering of French war refugees. The photographs were used to illustrate the situation to Americans and in soliciting donations.
©Collection Mark Jacobs/Photo: The American Committee for Devastated France
A British tank from the Mark series in Péronne near Amiens. 
©TASCHEN/Photo: Léon Gimpel
Victory celebration at Arc de Triomphe, Paris, July 14, 1919.