Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link World History Group RSS feed World History Group Subscriptions Historynet Home page

Little Soldiers: A French photojournalist captures Paris children playing at war in the dark days of World War I

By Jennifer E. Berry 
Originally published by MHQ magazine. Published Online: February 08, 2011 
Print Friendly
2 comments FONT +  FONT -

MHQ Home Page

Picture 11 of 11

Execution of a Boche Using a 75 Piece: Gimpel had already blindfolded the prisoner and prepared for a traditional firing-squad execution when the chief, dragging over the French 75, intervened. “To execute a Boche,” he said, “nothing but a cannon will do.”

Inspired by poster artist Francisque Poulbot's comic and colorful illustrations of children playing at war, Gimpel went to work photographing the children of the Grenéta neighborhood in Paris

The French army was in a precarious position in the summer of 1915, as its offensives bogged down and casualties skyrocketed. L'Illustration, a popular image-driven newspaper, encouraged renowned Paris-based photojournalist Léon Gimpel to find subjects worthy of color photographs—a rarity at a time when the heavy equipment and complex processing of color newspaper photography meant few photographers could shoot for that medium. Inspired by poster artist Francisque Poulbot's comic and colorful illustrations of children playing at war, Gimpel went to work.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to MHQ magazine

Every Sunday during August and September he gathered the children of Grenéta Street, in the heart of Paris. He helped them construct props with whatever was available, then cast a scene and shot it using his distinctive method of autochrome color photography. After each shoot he rewarded his happy troops, whom he dubbed the Grenéta Street Army, with hard candy for the day's work. The result was mesmerizing—surreal, luminous depictions of children playfully reenacting scenes from one of the deadliest wars in history.

The photographer had already sealed his reputation as an innovator. In 1904, shortly after he began working for L'Illustration, Gimpel developed a method to increase the sensitivity of glass plate "film," making possible some of the earliest night photography of Paris. Later he experimented with the autochrome color film development process, raising the sensitivity of the color plates by 500 percent, which, by increasing the speed of the image capture, made it more viable for on-the-spot news photography. His photograph of the king and queen of Denmark, published by L'Illustration on June 29, 1907, became the first color photograph to run in a newspaper.

In 1915, however, Gimpel's bright-hued images of Parisian children "at war" were rejected by L'Illustration's editors, who considered the subject matter too trivial for such a perilous period. Nonetheless, Gimpel and the Grenéta Street Army were unexpectedly honored in early 1916 with an exhibit of those 20-by-30-inch photographs at a prominent Paris photography gallery. The exhibit was such a success that it ran for two weeks rather than the usual one. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in Gimpel's work; his Grenéta Street Army series is now hailed as a masterpiece, a brilliant, beautifully colored photographic essay that evokes the belle époque even as France was becoming thoroughly mired in the First World War.

Click For More From MHQ!
Click For More From MHQ!

2 Responses to “Little Soldiers: A French photojournalist captures Paris children playing at war in the dark days of World War I”

  1. 1
    WmBarrett says:

    Excellent article .It illuminates the human side of a tragic war.

  2. 2
    Thomas says:

    Take a moment to think about the following two quotes from this article:
    The headline:
    "A French photojournalist captures children playing at war …"
    and from the text:
    "… he gathered the children … He helped them construct props … then cast a scene and shot it …"

    Journalist?? What sort of 'photojournalist' gathers a cast, creates props, and fabricates scenes to photograph?

    This is even more objectionable than 'journalists' today who would use photoshop to 'improve' their photographs of current events to make them more dramatic.

    It's interesting to see that documentary standards were as corrupt and proselytizing as the products from Michael Moore in the modern day.

    This article describes children "playing at war". What a complete farce.

Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Related Articles

History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet? is brought to you by World History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
World History Group

World History Group Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer!
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 World History Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy