Daniel Foliard
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Invisible wars? Reflections of extra-European conflicts in France and Britain
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This chapter is a study in the public reception and dissemination of photography in France and Britain. Its methodology is therefore different from the other sections. Printing techniques, media history, and lexicometry are drawn upon to measure the tolerance thresholds of British and French societies. The past is analysed in its own terms. The words and phrases used at the time to describe war, atrocity, and humanitarian photography are examined. Growing anxieties as to the effect of violent imagery on spectators are also addressed. The chapter demonstrates that a significant portion of French and British populations was well aware of the existence and expansion of colonial empires. It also shows that the visual coverage of colonial and international conflicts was far from sanitised. French ‘Belle Epoque’ and British ‘Edwardian’ society were not blind to the catastrophic consequences of modern warfare and colonial conquest. Most people did, however, choose not to look too closely. While photographs were transformed into vehicles for public debate on the violent crises of the period, they failed to provide a clear warning. Indifference, ‘weak commitment’, along with the poor organisation of pacifist agitation or early anti-imperialist militancy were all factors resulting in the mitigation of the impact of changes in the visual discourses on organised violence before 1914.

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