War, Photography, Business: New Critical Histories

Pippa Oldfield, Tom Allbeson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article offers a critique of conventional histories of war photography, which have tended to focus on the biographies of individual renowned photojournalists or particular aesthetically striking images of conflict. We argue the need for an expanded conception of war photography which encompasses not only reportage, but numerous other uses in wartime of photographic images and technologies, from reconnaissance imagery to the application of innovations made by photographic companies in the development of weaponry and other military hardware. In parallel, we argue for an appreciation of the broader network of actors, organizations and institutions relevant to war photography in this sense — a network encompassing not only the military and the state, but also photographic companies, weapons manufacturers, individual entrepreneurs, media companies and the public. We proffer the term ‘war photography complex’ as shorthand for this broad cultural phenomenon and aim to prompt a broader sustained engagement with the reciprocity between, on the one hand, the strategy and prosecution of war and, on the other hand, photographic practices and products. The case is also made for the contribution of business history (encompassing the histories of both companies and industry) to examining war photography, acting as a much-needed supplement to methodologies from cultural history and photography studies. Finally, discussing war photography from the Second World War to the Cold War, we articulate the key research questions which constitute this proposed research agenda.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-114
JournalJournal of War and Culture Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


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