Aerial Photographs

Aerial Photography of the Western Front. A road road cutting through fields with shell craters all around.
© IWM (BOX 133-109-21AE-28H-1917)

Aerial Photographs

In early 2019, IWM’s curatorial team received a request to view aerial photographs from the First World War for an undisclosed project.

During that conflict, aerial photographs were taken on reconnaissance flights over the Western Front and pieced together to make large ‘mosaics’. These ‘mosaics’ could then be used to update trench maps, see new German defences and logistic routes and were vital intelligence in planning operations.

Under the tutorage of Alan Wakefield, Imperial War Museums’ Head of First World War and Early 20th Century, access was arranged at IWM Duxford where a large proportion of the archive is stored.

Attention to detail

An IWM curator examines a book from the collection
© IWM

Attention to detail

Initially unbeknownst to Alan, the research was being conducted to authentically recreate these ‘mosaics’ for an upcoming feature film. In the opening scenes of Sam Mendes’ First World War epic, 1917, General Erinmore, played by Colin Firth, can be seen using the ‘mosaics’ in planning an operation on the Western Front.

'I was impressed with the level of attention to detail taken for a short scene in the film to make it as authentic as possible’ Alan remarked.

IWM’s extensive collections contain some 11 million photographs, 23,000 hours of film, 33,000 hours of sound recordings, 20,000 paintings, posters and drawings and 155,000 three-dimensional objects. The collections can be navigated with the help of our experienced curatorial team and provide fantastic insight for projects concerning twentieth and twenty-first-century conflicts.

Sir Sam Mendes, writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns and actor George MacKay also came to IWM to read several letters and diaries from the period and visit IWM’s award-winning First World War Galleries.

‘When I saw the film I was able to recognise a number of first-hand accounts from letters and diaries in our collection’ recalled Alan.

The Actors

The Actors

The film’s stars and director can be heard in the clips below reflecting on how they researched the project, including their visits to IWM.

The Director

The Director

IWM London was also used by production company, Entertainment One, to host a press conference with the cast and crew of the First World War epic, including Director and Writer Sam Mendes, Cinematographer Roger Deakins, and Producer Pippa Harris.

Fifty national and international press were in attendance, including journalists from The Times, the Guardian and Press Association.

Imperial War Museum’s Curator Consultancy service can be used for a variety of projects, both big and small, from television and film to consumer products and publishing. Further information can be found at www.iwm.org.uk/commercial/curator-consultancy and enquiries can be sent to [email protected] or through the enquiry form online.