So I recently acquired 4 glass stereo negatives, presumably from a pretty active photographer (as these are numbered 192, 193, 194 & 196) and likely in January 1918 (based on the notation “1.1918” and the amount of snow around). Sadly, these were the only plates from this particular photographer available (I’d have got more if I could have), but they’re pretty fantastic in that they show day-to-day life from the point of view of the soldier / photographer in an encampment in the Forest of Saint Airy, likely just holding the position when the stereographic slides were made.
The slides focus first on the camp, and then on the particular little shelter that the soldier lived in (and likely shared with others). The soldier/photographer was with the 36th Artillery Regiment, as noted on the slides. Bizarrely, two of the views were shot backwards – if not placed backwards in the stereoscope, positives made from them from direct contact printing would result in images that don’t merge. I have corrected this for display here, but you’ll notice that two of the images are basically a left-right reversal of reality – I don’t know what accounts for this.
But let’s take a look into a couple of days in the life of this soldier, near his cozy little shelter in the Forest of St. Airy:
This overview shot provides context for the next two images, which show the exterior of the little shelter with soldiers nearby:
Here, “Mon abri au” translates to “My shelter at”. Note the shovel in place for digging out the little walkway leading to the front door. Next up, there’s a reversed version of the same image – it’s clearly the same structure with the same tree and one of the same men, but taken on an earlier day – yet the image is reversed:
Weird on the reversal, but at least this doesn’t suffer the same amount of corner damage as the last shot. It also looks taken at at earlier date, with somewhat less snow adhered to the tree, and the numbers would seem to confirm this – 196 being later than 193. Finally, another view similarly reversed – but now we get to go inside the shelter:
While seemingly humble, compare this to most of the places that you’ve read about the Hairies (as they were called in French, due to their omnipresent moustaches) sleeping in during the War, especially on the fronts, but even in sodden shelters and waterlogged dugouts – these are pretty swank digs! A cot, a writing desk with an actual bench, a candle, some shelves – this was pretty much luxury for a soldier in the Great War. There’s even what appears to be the beginning of a chalk drawing of a lady on the wall! I only wish I had more of this soldier’s work, so I could explore his life further – but this is a pretty awesome set in any case.