UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Looking through ruin : Canadian photography at Ypres and the archive of war Alexandre, David


This thesis examines the relationship between the photographic archive of the First World War and Canadian war memory through an analysis of the production of photographs depicting the ruins of Ypres, Belgium and their postwar appropriation. Taken by official photographers in the employment of the Canadian War Records Office, the photographs were intended to act as both historical documents and, paradoxically, as publicity and propaganda images. Both functions of the photographs work to construct a unified image of the war and are similarly characterized by a repressive structure. Ypres, almost entirely destroyed during the war, was both the site of Canada's first battle and major victory as well as a contentious site connoting military mismanagement and wasteful loss of life. Resultantly, representations of the city's ruins are suggestive of a corresponding shift from a mythic to a horrific war in First World War historiography that took place in the decades proceeding it. Images of Ypres' ruins were filtered through both material censorship enforced by the military to elicit high morale and psychic censorship. Photographers made mechanized war conform to their visual expectations. However, the repressive structure literally contains that which it represses as an uncanny double and invariably allows for the possibility of its return. I argue that the anodyne and conventionalized image generated by official photographs of ruins also contains and signifies the destructive violence of modern warfare. Finally, I examine the construction of these conflicting narratives as they develop around the simultaneous processes of archivization and circulation ever-widening circles of mnemonic constructs such as postcards and tourist brochures at the same time that they were being archived. I argue that rather than contaminating and damaging the archival meaning of the photographs, the archive is an accumulative institution capable of incorporating a variety of conflicting narratives without ruining its authority.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.