Family Photographs from WW1: A Separation Portrait

Family Photographs from WW1:

A Separation Portrait






A fairly common type of photograph surviving in family collections from the First World War is the ‘separation’ scene combing two different but linked pictures. Soldiers serving overseas would usually take away to war a photograph of their family, to remind them of loved ones at home. Sometimes while abroad, a serviceman would be photographed in a local studio, like the soldier above, a Sergeant-Major with the North Staffordshire Regiment, pictured wearing khaki drill uniform in Alexandria, Egypt, c.1916-18. He might then have a small copy of the existing photograph of his family inserted into the corner of his portrait as a little vignette image – a kind of thought bubble, as seen here. The new photograph, posted back to Britain, would give his wife and children (or, in other instances, his parents and siblings, or sweetheart) an updated image of him and would also demonstrate visibly that they were very much in his thoughts, despite the distance separating them.






In this case, both the soldier’s separation photograph and the earlier family portrait included as a vignette have survived in this private family photograph collection, as seen above. The fashion clues here suggest that the wife and four children were photographed c.1914-15, probably around the time the soldier first joined up. These separation photographs are particularly poignant images from the First World War, expressing something of the human sentiments that lay just beneath the surface of the military action.