French and British press photography of the Spanish Civil War : ideology, iconography, mentalité
This thesis has aimed to investigate the value of photographs to the study of history. It argues that photographs, as "witnesses in spite of themselves," constitute a rich source of historical evidence, providing direct insight not into their ostensible subjects so much as the particular ideological and cultural cast of the society in which they function. It argues that a society's common attitudes and beliefs are present in photographs in a way they are not in more literal discourse, and that the study of photographs offers the historian privileged access to that society's perceptual framework. In proposing as its case-study the relationship between war and photography during the Spanish Civil War, this thesis has examined 3,000 photographs printed in six French and six British illustrated publications across the political spectrum. It has focused most intensely upon the months between July and December 1936 as the period of most concentrated propagandist activity, but includes two particularly valuable publications from 1938-39. It has explored a number of critical theories in analysing these images, drawing chiefly upon structuralism, semiology and the hisroire des mentalités. This thesis concludes that the photographs examined in the French and British press often had little beyond fortuity to do with the conflict in Spain. Instead, these images hollowed out the specificity of Spain and filled it with assumptions particular to 1930s Britain and France concerning issues such as soldiering, gender, urban and social life, and mortality. Although each image was mobilised in the interests of propaganda, like all photographs their meaning was nevertheless dependent upon the cultural assumptions outside them to which they referred, and was determined by their context and use. This thesis thus concludes that photographs are replete with information about the collective imagination of the society in which they have currency and can thereby offer the historian a specific means of recovering the past.