The Theater of War: A brief overview of illustrated conflict reportage since the advent of photography  (April 2013)

Mom, I wouldn’t wish war on my worst enemy. —John, U.S. Marine, twice deployed to Iraq [1]

The invention of the printing press in 1448 revolutionized the way information could be reproduced and, subsequently, circulated.[2]   The techniques of engraving, for illustration, were originally developed and dominated by carpenters (woodcuts) and goldsmiths (intaglio) in the early part of the 15th century, until painters began to learn the craft before the century’s close.[3]   It made practical sense that engraving would be the primary medium used when the press began to incorporate illustrations into periodicals and mass media.

News of war has consistently held popular interest, as it directly impacts personal lives, economics, politics and national pride.  Until the invention of the electric telegraph, reports from the front lines could take days or weeks to reach the home front.  As well, any illustration that accompanied a news report was often rendered based on oral or written accounts of the event.

Photography, as of the 1860s, would supply a literal visual document of the battlefield and provide a template for the engraver.  When photomechanical reproduction became practical in the 1880s, engravers all but disappeared from newspapers and magazines by the early 20th century, as photographs would become the primary graphic of war.

Although our visual knowledge of conflict in the 20th century has been primarily photographic, there are those who believe that photographs of war and atrocities no longer have an impact on the viewer; that their ubiquity has rendered them ineffectual.  This paper will review the history of conflict reportage and the volley between artists as special correspondents and photojournalist as relates to major U.S. military conflicts since the Civil War.  In addition, the author will introduce the Black.Light project, which endeavors to recontextualize conflict reporting by melding the written word with photographs and illustration—a project that may be indicative of a relatively new pattern in reportage.  (Read more)



1.  Jim Lommasson, I Wouldn’t Wish War on My Worst Enemy, artist book (2010),

2.  “Johann Gutenberg,” Lemelson-MIT Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, accessed March 28, 2013,

3.  James Snyder, Larry Silver, and Henry Luttikhuizen, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575 (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005), 248.