The IWM Photograph Archive covers over 100 years of war and conflict. 

It holds approximately 11 million photographs taken by a range of individuals, both amateur and professional, who were personally motivated or employed to do so.

Photography has been, and continues to be, used in war for a variety of roles, from aerial reconnaissance, medical work to propaganda. Offering a visual insight into war and conflict, photographs have the power to document and reveal, but also to hide or distort events, depending on the motivations of the photographer and how images are circulated.

The five photographers featured in War Photographers - IWM Photography Collection represent professional war photography and reveal how photographs have shaped the way we visually understand the events of the twentieth century. 

Several photographers whose work is highlighted in War Photographers feature in IWM London's Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries.

Olive Edis

The grave of Betty Stevenson of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) tended by a member of the QMAAC at a graveyard in Étaples, France, 10 March 1919.
© IWM Q_008028
The grave of Betty Stevenson of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) tended by a member of the QMAAC at a graveyard in Étaples, France, 10 March 1919. Edis described the cemetery as a ‘perfect forest of little wooden crosses’ and specifically sought out Stevenson’s grave to photograph. Stevenson was killed by a bomb during a German air raid on 30 May 1918, aged 21.

Pioneering professional photographer Olive Edis was based in Norfolk, with studios in both Surrey and London.

In October 1918, Agnes Conway, the Honorary Secretary of the Women’s Work Sub Committee of the newly established National War Museum (later Imperial War Museums), invited Edis to photograph women’s services in France and Belgium.

She became the first IWM commissioned female photographer.

She created a lasting record of women’s war work during the First World War.

Vera Elkan

A mother and her child sit on the steps of a church in Madrid after a bombing raid. The mother has her arms wrapped around her child and is hugging her closely and smiling lovingly at her.
© IWM HU_71499
A mother and her child sit on the steps of a church in Madrid after a bombing raid. Taken on a Leica camera, Elkan described this as her best photograph. During her time in Madrid, she observed that many churches had been burned down, but most buildings were unscathed, and many civilians sought safety in the caves around the city.

South African-born Vera Elkan spent much of her youth in Europe and trained in photography in Berlin.

After returning to South Africa to set up her own studio, she relocated to London at the age of just 25. IWM holds photographs taken by Elkan on an assignment to create a film about the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) – a conflict between the Popular Front government of the Spanish Republic (an alliance of republicans, socialists and communists) and Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, who were trying to overthrow the Republic.

Elkan recalled that it was easier to view the difficult scenes around her through a camera as everything was ‘so much smaller and so much less personal’.

Bill Brandt

Crowds of people sleeping on the crowded platform of Elephant & Castle Underground Station, London, November 1940.
© IWM HU_000672
People sleeping on the crowded platform of Elephant & Castle Underground Station, London, November 1940. Brandt photographed on a square medium format film but cropped this photograph ahead of publication, likely to maximise its impact and suit the style of the publication.

Bill Brandt was born in Germany and discovered photography in Vienna. He further developed his style in Paris, influenced by avant-garde photographers, such as Man Ray and Brassaï, before moving to London in 1934.

In November 1940, Brandt visited London’s air raid shelters on behalf of the Ministry of Information – the British Government’s department for propaganda. 

Using his Automatic Rolliflex camera, he played with light sources and manipulated images in his darkroom to create intense photographs of Londoners sheltering underground from German bombing raids.

Jimmy Mapham

Troops of the 3rd Infantry Division on Sword Beach, Normandy
© IWM B_005114

Sergeant Jimmy Mapham, a photographer for the Leicester Mercury before the Second World War, became an official photographer in the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU).

Mapham photographed the war in North Africa, England and North-West Europe.

He was one of 13 APFU cameramen to land with troops in Normandy on D-Day and is recognised as having produced some of the most iconic photographs of the British landings.

Paul RG Haley

A picture of the Madonna taped to the butt of a surrendered Argentinian rifle at Port Stanley.
Soldier Magazine © IWM FKD_000298
A picture of the Madonna taped to the butt of a surrendered Argentinian rifle at Port Stanley. Haley positioned the rifle on the top of the pile to compose the photograph. Haley remarked ‘Iconic images don’t just happen by themselves!’

Working as a photographer since the age of 15, Haley had worked for the MOD at the Royal School of Artillery, Larkhill, before moving to Soldier.

Yorkshire-born Paul Haley was a civilian photographer working for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) magazine Soldier when the Falklands Conflict started in 1982.

During his 13 years at the magazine, Haley covered a range of British Army activities from training in Canada and Kenya to active tours in Northern Ireland and Cyprus.

Reflecting on the challenging conditions he encountered, Haley said, ‘photography was the least of my worries… trying to keep warm and dry and keep my cameras dry was the challenge’.

Explore further works from these photographers in War Photographers - IWM Photography Collection. 

Other IWM Photography Collection titles

Books
The Spitfire
£12.99
Books
Animals in Wartime
£12.99
Books
The Royal Family in Wartime
£12.99

Discover the full IWM Photography Collection series of titles by visiting the IWM Shop

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