Title: Photogram Poirier. (History vision).
Author : POIRIER Léon (-)
Creation date : 1928
Date shown: 1916
Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0
Technique and other indications: photogram, photogravure
Storage location: Historial of the Great War of Péronne website
Contact copyright: © Historial de la Grande Guerre - Péronne (Somme) - Photo Yazid Medmounsite web
Picture reference: EPP3
Photogram Poirier. (History vision).
© Historial de la Grande Guerre - Péronne (Somme) - Photo Yazid Medmoun
Publication date: March 2016
Given the technical handicaps linked to photographic photography in 1914-1918, and especially the immense danger of the battlefield, we have very few images of the fighting. To compensate for this lack, during but also after the war, we proceeded to various reconstructions more or less faithful to reality.
This document, a priori exceptional in terms of its content, has been used on several occasions as a “shock illustration” in various historical works  and recent publications . It is generally presented as having been taken by a German photographer on the Verdun front in 1916.
He shows, from the front and in slight dive, a French grenadier hit by a bullet during an assault, while, behind him, his comrades continue their progress by running. The well-framed shot is not completely clear, but this formal imperfection only reinforces the impact of this image apparently captured on the spot. The composition is beautiful, astounding, full of vigor, endowed with incredible tragic force. You can see both the frightening dynamics and the extreme violence of war. This slightly blurred silhouette of the soldier being killed in the heat of the moment is overwhelming. It’s like a trace, a frozen moment of death in combat.
However, this is a reconstruction dating from 1928. More precisely of a photogram from Léon Poirier's fictional film entitled Verdun, visions of history, which was printed in gravure and reproduced in an advertising brochure edited by Jules Tallandier at the time of its release on the screens.
Careful analysis of the document helps avoid a serious error of judgment. Indeed, if we put ourselves in the context, how not to be struck at first glance by the proximity of the photographed subject: not having a large focal length, and knowing the sensitivity of the glass plates used in 1914- 1918, to take such an image at the decisive moment, the operator would have had to wait calmly for the arrival of the attackers, that is to say, he took the risk of dying or being taken prisoner. An unlikely hypothesis.
On the other hand, the extraordinary quality of this perfectly balanced image on the aesthetic and meaningful level, very different from the current production of the time, arouses special attention and interest because it brings to mind another less ancient document. A remarkable snapshot, which has become legendary, also showing a fighter hit head-on by a bullet in his race: the death of the Spanish Republican photographed on the Extremadura front by Robert Capa in September 1936. Obviously, the perception that l 'we have today of this document, when we do not know the exact origin, can be influenced and reinforced by the fact that it refers, in the collective imagination, to the famous photograph of Capa, exceptionally powerful and taken in a very real combat situation . An image almost always refers to one or more other images ...
- War of 14-18
Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.
Laurent VERAY, "Showing war: photography, cinema", in Jean-Jacques BECKER, Jay WINTER, Gerd KRUMEICH (dir.), War and Culture: 1914-1918, Paris, Armand Colin, 1994.
Laurent VERAY, "These fakes that make history", in 14-18 Today, Today, Heute, no 3, Paris, Noêsis, November 1999, p. 209-217.
1. This is the case, among others, in World War I: The Breaking Up of a World, by Jay Winter, Paris, Brussels, Montreal, Zurich, Sélection du Reader’s Digest, 1990, p. 122-123.
2. See The world from Wednesday November 4, 1998 where the photograph is used to illustrate a series of articles on "The memory of the Great War"; or Le Figaro Magazine from Friday 31 December 1999, special issue entitled "A century in France: the most beautiful photos", p. 16.3. It should be noted here that this photograph was once suspected of being a reconstruction.
To cite this article
Laurent VÉRAY, "Reconstructing the 1914 war"