Goofy found photos record WWI soldiers posing with fake military props

While a variety of props – fake airplanes, hot air balloons, automobiles, trains — had been used in studio photography since the late 19th century, their popularity gained traction at the outbreak of World War I in Europe.

Photographs were taken as "official" souvenirs for servicemen at military training camps to send home to friends and families, while more informal photo opportunities were available at arcades and amusement parks for soldiers on leave.

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Goofy photos of WWI soldiers posing with props
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Goofy photos of WWI soldiers posing with props

c. 1910-1912

“Flight from the sand desert [i.e., military camp] Neuhammer.” Nuehammer Military Camp, Germany. Unidentified photographer.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1915

“Flight from Elsenborn to Paris.” Truppenübungsplatz (military training ground), Elsenborn, Germany. Photographer: Alexander Herld

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

March 22, 1915

Truppenübungsplatz (military training ground), Elsenborn, Germany. Photographer: Alexander Herld.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1912-1915

“Hooray. [This] unit has 22 days left.” Unidentified location, Germany.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

August 1912

“Reserved Flight Home from Bitsch.” Straßburg, Austria. Photographer: J. Jungmann.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1928

“Those who remained faithful to their mother can be seen flying from here.” Munster, Germany. Unidentified photographer.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1914

Military training ground, Neuhammer am Queis, Germany. Photographer: Paul Riediger.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1913

“Escape from sand desert [military camp] Neuhammer.” Neuhammer, Germany. Photographer: Paul Riediger.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1912-1914

“Flight from Döberitz.” Berlin, Germany. Photographer: Paul Höfer.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1914

“With thunder, hail and lightning God created Desert Döberitz”; “Flight from Desert Döberitz.” Döberitz Military Training Camp (aka “Desert Döberitz”). Photographer: Alfons Weghuber.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1925-1930

“Flight from Jüterbog.” Teltow-Fläming district, Germany. Photographer: Ernst Löhn.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

June 1913

“Flight from the Military Training Camp at Darmstadt.” Ideal Studio, Darmstadt, Germany. Photographer: Fritz Sengers.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1918

“Happy New Year 1918.” Unidentified German studio.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1916

“Escape from Munster.” Munster Military Camp, Germany.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1915

Figure 25 Munster Military Camp, Germany. Unidentified photographer. The "§ 11" symbol on the two beer barrels denotes a paragraph from the German "Beer Code,” which reads "Es wird fortgesoffen” or "Keep on drinking."

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1930s

German soldiers on faux Easter egg prop. Unidentified location, Germany.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1938

“Sightseeing Flight - Faßberg Air Base – Munster – Hamburg, 1938.” Munster, Germany. Photographer: Richard Schubert.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1925

Camp de Bitche, Département de la Moselle, France. Photographer: Charles Montag.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

Dec. 23, 1928

French military aviators in painted biplane studio prop, with Eiffel Tower and the Trocadéro Palace in background. Paris, France. Unidentified photographer.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1930s

Coney Island Amusement Park, New York. Unidentified photographer.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1930s-1940s

Nazi officers in photomontage single-propeller plane. Unidentified location, Germany.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1933

“If this thing bursts we are done for.” Munich, Germany. Photographer: Richard Schubert.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1912-1915

“Flight from Bitsch at 636 meters altitude.” Soldiers with mascot on a painted studio prop of the Viktoria Luise Zeppelin, Bezirk Lothringen, German Lorraine. Unidentified photographer.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1930s

“The trip to Hannover is here.” Dörnitz Military Camp (Altengrabow), Germany. Photographer: Max Schütze.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

July 1914

Lockstedter Military Camp, near Hülsings, Germany. Wahrmann Studio.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1930s

“Flight from Altengrabow.” Dörnitz Military Camp (Altengrabow), Germany. Photographer: Max Schütze.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

1930

German soldiers on wooden cutout stork. Munster, Germany. Unidentified photographer.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1920s

Soldier posing with fake horse in front of painted backdrop, Republic of Estonia. Unidentified photographer.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1917

American soldier pointing his revolver at German infantry studio prop. Unidentified location, USA.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1940s

American soldiers riding a wooden cutout donkey while resting their feet on a box inscribed “To hell with Hitler.” Unidentified photographer, USA.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

c. 1944-1945

French soldiers in studio tank prop. Unidentified location, France.

(Photo via Collection of Christopher B. Steiner)

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These military portraits collected by Christopher B. Steiner, a professor of art history and anthropology at Connecticut College, capture moments of both folly and formality. The juxtaposition of faux props and real people is often curious and visually confounding. Some images appear to be staged to accentuate silliness; while others are posed with almost comical self-seriousness.

The photographs range in time from the beginning of World War I to the close of World War II. While the majority are German, the collection also includes some images from France, Holland, the United States, and the Baltics. Removed, momentarily, from the madness and brutality of war, these souvenir portraits capture moments of camaraderie and humanity.

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