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HomeContentsThemes > Paris Commune (1871)

Warning: The photographs within this theme and the sections on individual wars are of a graphic and violent nature - if you are sensitive to these issues then you should not view this theme.
Disclaimer: This section of the website uses examples from wars and rebellions to highlight the works of photographers - this is not to make a political point but to appreciate that there are different global perspectives on each event. If there is a general point it is about the inhumanity of war.
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Following the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) the head of the French National Government, Adolph Thiers, had negotiated the terms of peace but the Parisians, who had undergone a long siege, did not accept the German victory. A catalyst for widespread unrest was a planned triumphal entry into the city by the German army - the citizens rebelled and the Paris Commune began on 18 March 1871.
There remains a photographic record of the barricades, devastated streets and buildings and the dead communards. Most of the photographs are uninteresting albumen prints but within the collections at Northwestern University Library there are some gems. Photographs also survive of the destruction of the Colonne Vendôme on 16 May 1871 in Place Vendôme.
In the week beginning 21 May 1871 there was brutal street fighting an an estimated 20,000-30,000 communards were killed or executed with many more being arrested. French newspapers, such as Le Monde illustré and L'Illustration, used photographs as the basis for their engravings.
Paris Commune - Faked photographs
Eugène Appert
Execution of Rossell, Bourgeois & Ferre - 28 November 1871 at Satory 
1871, 28 November
Eugène Appert
[Photomontage during the Paris Commune] 
Eugène Appert
[Photomontage during the Paris Commune] 
During and after the Paris Commune of 1871 Eugène Appert (1814-1891) created composite albumen prints to highlight key events in a series entitled Crimes of the Commune (Crimes de la Commune). Each of the printed composites was accompanied with printed details that provided the evidence for what was being supposedly being shown. The prints were used as propaganda by the French National Government, led by Adolph Thiers, to justify the brutal suppression of the commune and the executions that followed.
[Checklist]Click on image for details 
[Copyright and Fair Use Issues]
Photographs of wanted communards were supplied to the Frontier police so they could be captured - this use of photographs to support political objectives where photojournalists are torn between taking images at demonstrations and the knowledge that these same images will be used as a tool of oppression.
Major photographers:
  • Eugène Appert (1814-1867) - with his faked photograph of the massacre of the Arcueil Dominicans (25 May 1871) - Crimes de la Commune: Massacre des Dominicans D'Arcueil, Route d'Italia No. 38, 25 Mai 1871, à 4 heures et demie that was used as progaganda by the French National Government to highlight the excesses of the communards and therefore justify their violent suppression. The faked photograph is interesting as it has printing on the left and right edge providing the additional evidence for what had supposedly happened.
  • Bruno Braquehais
  • Hippolyte-Auguste Collard who is better known for his studies of French railway architecture.
  • André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
  • Eugène Fabius
  • C. Tune took photographs of the German forces.
  • Alphonse J. Liébert
  • J. Andrieu in his series 'Desastres de la guerre'
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