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.
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.