Tag Archives: propaganda

How Napoléon III used photography as propaganda to hide the horror of his new Paris

Patients of the Imperial asylum at Vincennes celebrate Emperor Napoléon III.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Samuel Raybone, Aberystwyth University

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, ruler of France from 1848 to 1870, was “the most enthusiastic supporter of photography in all of Europe”. He stocked his libraries with countless photographs of bridges, parks, army camps, railways, and palaces. These structures were his most important achievements and he commissioned a panoply of photographers to celebrate them.

First publicly demonstrated in 1839, photography was a modern, scientific marvel – its realism, accuracy, and truthfulness astounded 19th-century viewers. In the 1850s, these associations primed it to become an essential propaganda tool. Even medical photography became political.

Yet, as the photographer Charles Nègre discovered when he visited the Asile impérial de Vincennes – a convalescent hospital for working men founded by Louis-Napoléon – bodies were more difficult to politicise than bridges. Disabled by amputation and infected with typhoid, the asylum’s patients did not fit easily into Louis-Napoléon’s self-aggrandising propaganda. To win official approval, Nègre had to censor their afflictions.

Highlighting progress

A photograph of slums in Paris.
Charles Marville, Haut de la rue Champlain (vue prise à droite), 1877-1878.
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Louis-Napoléon inherited a cramped, crumbling and crime-ridden capital. Paris’s one million inhabitants lived cheek-by-jowl in a vast tangle of densely packed buildings. There was even a slum in the courtyard of the Louvre.

Modernising Paris promised more than practical benefits: “I want to be a second Augustus”, wrote Louis-Napoléon in 1842, “because Augustus … made Rome a city of marble”. It meant glory. So, he hired a ruthlessly efficient administrator, Baron Haussmann, to knock down the old slums.

A photograph of a construction site in Paris.
Delmaet & Durandelle, [Construction Site in Paris], about 1866. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.
The Getty

The city became a building site. Charles Marville’s photographs record the squalor of the slums, the chaos of their transformation, and the spectacle of their rebirth. Thousands of men were drafted into an army of construction, battling away on this new “field of honour” for the glory of the nation and its increasingly power-hungry leader.

A photograph of a modernised Parisian street, with a wide, paved road, new buildings, and gas lighting.
Charles Marville, [Rue de Constantine],about 1865.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In December 1851, Louis-Napoléon overthrew the Second Republic and made himself Emperor Napoléon III. Liberal democracy was replaced by populist authoritarianism. To compensate, Napoléon III promised a bounty of progress and benevolence, especially for the working-class – as he put it: “those who work and those who suffer can count on me”. The legitimacy of his rule depended on his being believed. Any evidence to the contrary put him in real danger, not least from the rebellious Parisian workers. As one commentator put it: “A week’s interruption of the building trade would terrify the Government”.

Napoléon III and his ministers called upon photographers to help him walk this tightrope. In addition to Marville, they commissioned Édouard Baldus to record the renovation of the Louvre, Auguste Hippolyte Collard to document Paris’s new bridges, and Delmaet and Durandelle to showcase the city’s new opera house. Their photographs offered tangible proof of progress.

A view of a bridge under construction.
Auguste Hippolyte Collard, Chemin de fer de ceinture de Paris (rive gauche): Pont-viaduc sur la Seine au Point-du-Jour, 1863-1865.
Bibliothèque nationale de France

Collard’s view of the rebuilt Point du Jour bridge is typical for its emphasis on the superhuman scale and clean geometry of its subject. Other photographers approvingly compared Napoléon III’s bridges to Roman aqueducts – Collard instead contrasts the structure to the workers erecting it. Their tiny bodies, “trapped in the labyrinth of scaffolding”, are visually dominated by the bridge, which, stamped with the imperial “N”, is a tangible artefact of Napoléon III’s achievement. The photograph’s political message is clear: work for the masses, glory for the Emperor, modernity for France.

Hiding disability

Yet, as Napoléon III’s interior minister knew, “industry has its injured like war” and the rebuilding of Paris too had its “glorious war-wounded”. In 1855 Napoléon III ordered the construction of a convalescent asylum to care for workers injured during the building works.

Charles Nègre visited the asylum around 1858 to photograph its buildings, patients, and staff. To get paid, Nègre knew he had to toe the party line. Yet, the bodies he encountered had been wounded in the war for Napoléon III’s self-aggrandisement, giving the lie to his image of populist benevolence. Nègre’s challenge was to celebrate Napoléon III’s care for their suffering without revealing his culpability for it.

A photograph of hospital patients stood outside, raising their hats to celebrate a marble bust of Napoleon III.
Charles Nègre, [The 15th of August. Imperial Asylum at Vincennes], 1858.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nègre began his album with a scene of the patients and staff of the asylum paying homage to their benefactor. Nègre organised the patients into two geometric blocks, angled to draw our attention towards Napoléon III’s marble bust, placed in the centre, and away from individual patients, whose stoic faces and discreet walking sticks blend into a seamless whole.

A photograph of two nuns working in a laundry.
Charles Nègre, Asile Impérial de Vincennes: la lingerie, 1859.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

These working men are visually subsumed within a superhuman structure akin to Collard’s bridge. While the bridge symbolised progress, this unified mass of bodies offers a metaphor of social cohesion and “national gratitude” towards the Emperor.

In other photographs, Nègre focused on the asylum’s modern architecture and efficient staff. Patients are shown eating, playing and reading, as if on holiday. Nègre dared to show medical care only once but even then ensured the patient was so tightly bandaged as to disappear. The visibility of Napoléon III’s benevolence depended on the invisibility of his subjects’ illnesses and disabilities.

A photograph of a female patient of Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, facing the camera.
Hugh Welch Diamond, Patient, Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, 1850–58.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the 1850s photography was typically used to discover, rather than disguise, illness. In England, Dr Hugh Diamond photographed his “lunatic” patients because he trusted photography’s minute detail to capture hidden diagnostic clues. During treatment, he showed patients these portraits, believing the medium’s inherent truthfulness and arresting novelty would shock them into recognising their own illness.

Nègre broke from this emerging medical consensus under political pressure and his meagre finances made him desperate for state subsidy. His photographs, in trying to tell us so much about Napoléon III, tell us so little about the asylum’s patients. Photographs, even of bridges or hospitals, are never neutral: they are a tissue of the choices made by the photographer. In choosing to tell one truth, photographers can obscure many others.The Conversation

Samuel Raybone, Lecturer in Art History, Aberystwyth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How picture boards were used as propaganda in the Vandemonian War

File 20180227 36674 1xgzaal.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Detail from a reconstruction of a Tasmanian picture board by Simon Barnard (2015).
Kristyn Harman and Nicholas Brodie, Author provided

Kristyn Harman, University of Tasmania

As Hobart’s Old Government House was being demolished in the late 1850s, workers made a remarkable discovery. Lifting the floor, they found an old pine board covered with four rows of pictures. Six scenes painted in oils depicted interactions between white people and Aboriginal men, women and children.

An old colonist who had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land back in 1804 remembered seeing such a picture board. She told The Mercury newspaper in November 1874 how she recalled it

hanging on a gum tree at Cottage Green [now Battery Point] where … there was an Aboriginal “Home”, to the occupants of which rations were issued.

In the early decades of the Australian colonies, British officials tried different techniques to communicate with Aboriginal people. Some strategies were brutal, such as when Governor Arthur Phillip had Arabanoo, and later Colebee and Bennelong, kidnapped. The Governor planned to restrain these Aboriginal men until they learned English and could act as go-betweens (eventually Bennelong became an intermediary and a companion to Phillip).

Read more:
Explainer: the evidence for the Tasmanian genocide

Other communication strategies were more creative. Around 1816, Governor Lachlan Macquarie used proclamations nailed to trees to try to convey messages to Aboriginal people in New South Wales. None of these are known to have survived. In the 19th century, visiting Italian scientist Enrico Giglioli thought that Tasmania’s colonists were copying Macquarie’s approach when they began using picture boards.

Tasmanian Picture Board, 35.5 cm x 22.6 cm, c. 1830. An example of one of the seven surviving boards. The nail hole from when the board was attached to a tree can be seen in the top centre.
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

The Tasmanian picture board found stashed under Old Government House is rare. Only six others like it survive, all bearing the same picture sequence. This design has become relatively well known. Yet people continue to debate the meaning behind the boards. Some believe they depict the rule of law, others see martial law.

The central motif of the Lieutenant-Governor shaking hands with an Aboriginal leader, and the other pictures illustrating equality, have led scholars to conclude that picture boards were used to promote conciliation and harmony.

Rediscovering evidence

In 2014, fellow historian Nick Brodie and I were astonished to read detailed descriptions of two very different Tasmanian picture boards, in a manuscript by an unidentified author held in the Allport Library in Hobart. The author wrote about “Several Paintings of Panel […] about Eighteen Inches Square” that were “divided into compartments each of which represented a series of Actions admonitory to the Natives of the course intended by the Government to be pursued in future towards them”.

These visual warnings to Aboriginal people were part of Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur’s propaganda campaign during the Vandemonian War. We were intrigued by the scenes the writer described. To bring these to life, we invited Melbourne-based Tasmanian artist Simon Barnard to create impressions of what these other picture boards might have looked like.

A reconstruction of the altercation-themed Tasmanian picture board by Simon Barnard (2015).
© Kristyn Harman and Nicholas Dean Brodie, Author provided

The manuscript described scenes mirroring events that actually occurred. Take, for example, the Aboriginal man pictured in chains. In August 1830, following an altercation between field police and Aboriginal people at the Shannon River in Central Tasmania, the Colonial Times reported how an Aboriginal leader was

led in chains to the capital […] a large and heavy cart chain was twisted around his neck, and the other end of it was in the left hand of one of the conquerors.

The newspaper stated that two Aboriginal men were killed during the Shannon River affray. Other Aboriginal men, including the well-known resistance leader and convict from New South Wales, Musquito, were hanged in Hobart.

The two boards described in the manuscript presented Aboriginal people with a grim choice. Resist the British and guns and death awaits you. Adopt colonial ways and things will be better for you. The writer even suggested that “Official Rank & Station should be open to them [Aboriginal people] & […] they might even aspire to the dignified & confidential Employment of Postman”.

A recreation of the assimilation-themed Tasmanian picture board, Simon Barnard (2015).
© Kristyn Harman and Nicholas Dean Brodie, Author provided

The accounts of these more recently rediscovered boards complicate our understandings of Van Diemen’s Land, by showing how the colonial government offered stark terms. Depicting “soldiery […] firing upon a tribe”, these images convey the brutal realities of the Vandemonian War more accurately than the board found under Old Government House. Rather than implying friendship and equality, the sequences of pictures on these other two boards illustrate diverging paths for Tasmania’s Aboriginal people following the British invasion.

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Friday essay: journey through the apocalypse

The altercation-themed board’s picture sequence showed how, if Aboriginal people continued to resist the invasion, they would continue to be shot by soldiers, field police, armed settlers, and convicts. Those taken into custody could face the hangman.

On the other hand, the assimilation-themed board depicted how, in order to survive, the island’s original inhabitants could adopt Western ways. It showed Tasmanian Aboriginal people peacefully trading with the newcomers, being subservient to the Lieutenant-Governor, wearing colonial clothing, attending church, and taking up employment.

Aboriginal engagement with picture boards

Little evidence has survived to tell us how Aboriginal people engaged with or reacted to picture boards. We know at least one Tasmanian Aboriginal man became familiar with the imagery.

On 26 November 1830, the Tasmanian and Austral-Asiatic Review reported how Surveyor-General George Frankland gave the well-known leader Eumarrah a “little sketch” that illustrated:

[…] the consequences of the Aborigines adopting a peaceable demeanour, or of continuing their present murderous and predatory habits. In one part of the sketch, the soldiery were represented firing upon a tribe of the Blacks, who were falling from the effects of the attack. On the other part were seen, another tribe, decently clad, receiving food for themselves and families.

The ConversationUltimately this colonial propaganda was telling Tasmanian Aboriginal people that they really had no choice at all. Assimilate to survive. Resist, and perish.

Kristyn Harman, Senior Lecturer in History, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: WWII – British Propaganda Films

The following link is to an article about British propaganda films from World War II. There are some 80 in the archive the article is reporting on, with several embedded in the article.

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