Classification of German photographs of the WWII

Classification of German photographs of the WWII

This article aims at classification of German photos of the WWII as nearly each type of the under-mentioned pictures could be easily found in collections of all who are interested in paper artifacts of the bygone era. 

1. Amateur pictorial photos


These are by far the most popular photos taken by individuals for making up personal albums or sending back home to relatives and friends. Amateur pictorial photos vary in size dramatically, widely available being 6x9, 9x12 and 13x18 cm. However, numerous studious offered photographs of various sizes, from miniature to huge ones. Different captions and dedications are often found on reverses of amateur photos, thus identifying names of portrayed individuals and their companions, places, dates, events, etc. Those photos printed mainly on thin (rarely thick) paper had either straight or jagged edges, the latter being done with special scissors. Number of copies depended entirely on client’s wish and fluctuated from single to dozen.

2. Studio photos taken by professional photographers


This type of photos include portrait, full-length, single, group, family and wedding pictures, most of which were skillfully retouched and printed on thick paper. Number of copies depended on client’s wish and varied from single to dozen that were presented or sent to relatives and friends. If specified, name of the photo studio  could be printed either on obverse or reverse. When mentioned on obverse, it could have been put as

- embossed stamp at the very bottom of the portrait;

- printed stamp at the clear margin of the photo;

- miniature logo that was placed above photo paper before printing portrait.

When printed on the backside, name of the studio was indicated in one of the following ways:

- business stamp in various shapes, e.g. square, round, rectangular, etc.;

- vertical or horizontal line(s);

- typographic print on postcard-size photos.

Most photos printed in the occupied countries during the WWII bear pre-war stamps of the appropriate studios.


Studios that were situated in the occupied countries during the WWII followed their pre-war practice of putting appropriate stamps on reverses. However, if the town had been renamed by Germans, the stamp showed new name.

3. "Pass photos"


Small sized photos for miscellaneous identification documents, e.g. Soldier’s book (Soldbuch), various passes, etc. nicknamed “pass photos”. It’s worth mentioning here that some ID cards are found with carefully cut-out fragments of postcard-sized pictorial or group portrait photos glued instead specially printed small sized portrait. Size apart, glue remains on reverse, stamp fragments on obverse as well as staples and rivets are typical features of pass photos. 

4. Commemorative photos for military personnel


These are pictures portraying various ceremonial events, commanders of units and military leaders taken by professional photographers. Number of copies depended on reservations made by lower ranks and officers of an appropriate unit, but as a rule such photos were printed in quantity being used for making up personal albums. 

5. Commercial photos, a.k.a. “Kauf Fotos”


As appears from their name, such pictures were available for purchase, but unlike commemorative photos, these items depicted variety of images, mostly propagandistic (victorious German troops, decorated soldiers and officers, captured equipment, defeated enemies, POWs, etc.) and were offered to everyone. Commercial photos that were sold either by the piece or in sets were printed on thick 6x9 or 7x10 cm paper with straight edges from negatives made by war photographers. Description of a photo, typography name as well as name of the photographer’s unit are generally found on reverse. Serial numbers of photos are sometimes found on obverses. 

6. Amateurish photos


These are generally low quality photos manufactured by small undertakers in occupied countries, picture montage within ornamental frame and commemorative inscription being their most distinctive feature. Inexpensive amateurish photos were usually sent home by soldiers to their relatives unaware of such exotica. Sometimes these photos are found with several portraits on one photo, e.g. soldier and his family. Images of the latter were cut from client’s photo and pasted to compile a “group photo” surrounded by unusual design. It’s worth mentioning here that amateurish photos and postcards with festive images flooded post-war Soviet Union being sold in quantities at health resorts, railway stations and especially suburban trains.

7. Photos for official use


Such pictures were taken by staff photographers who often used special equipment, e.g. during aerophotography. Those photos were subsequently used for research purposes, working out maps, compiling classified files, examination of damages to combat equipment, etc. As a rule, detailed notes were written on reverses and sometimes obverses of such photos. Restrictive stamps may be found on backsides as well.   

8. Press photos


An article dealing with press photos is posted at our website here so we’ll confine ourselves to mentioning that press photo is generally a large-format pictorial or portrait photo taken by civilian or military photojournalist for the usage by the press and publishing industries with propaganda purposes. 

9. Wire photos


Those photos were described in detail at our website here. It will be recalled that wire photo is actually a photographic image that was acquired not directly from a glass or whatsoever negative but was printed out from an image transmitted to a news or photo agency by its press photographer or reporter via telegraph or telephone wires.