Marjorie Gehrhardt, ‘The Face of War’: photographic representations of facially injured soldiers

At this session of the Cultures of Europe seminar series at the University of Exeter on 27th January, Marjorie Gehrhardt spoke on the history of the Gueules cassées, in particular the threats to individual identity brought by facial injuries, and the issues arising from the photographic representation of facially injured soldiers in WWI. Gehrhardt identifies specifically photographic narratives of reconstruction during and immediately after the war, referring to official photographic records, surgical photography and the museums attached to hospitals (such as Val de Grâce) which exhibited photographs. This is a subtle and wide-ranging treatment of a significantly neglected history, and one whose photographic legacy surely merits further investigation. Gehrhardt refers in particular to Sontag’s analysis of photographs of pain, war and atrocity in Regarding the Pain of Others, and assesses Sontag’s reference to the anti-war pamphlet Krieg dem Kriege (1924) by the German pacifist militant Ernst Friedrich to illustrate the power of photographs as ‘shock therapy’. While for some the photographic legacy of the Gueules cassées is testament to the restorative power of maxillo-facial surgery, for Friedrich they testify only to the horror of war.

Gueules Cassées in the Cultures of Europe seminar series

Next week’s Cultures of Europe seminar on The War Damaged Body in Twentieth Century Europe will include a paper on ‘The Face of War’: photographic representations of facially injured soldiers. Through a discussion of visual representations, this paper investigates the experience and images of gueules cassées of the First World War, and explores the multi-faceted impact of these injuries and the ways in which they were portrayed.

All welcome!

Monday 27 January, 5.00-6.30

Forum Seminar Room 6 , The Forum, University of Exeter