Eyes of the World is a publication under development with fellow experimental archeologist and living historian Ivan Mack. The book aims to be the most comprehensive account and analysis of the role of the United States Army's Signal Photographic Companies and an exploration into the military's role in both documentation and influence on perception of the Second World War.

The way we as observers interact with the concept of war changed profoundly in the 20th Century. Conflicts that had preceded the Second World War are predominantly remembered through manuscripts, through accounts, stories, poetry, music and art. The Second World War was different. This war harnessed photography for documentary and founded an era in which the public had access to war from their own homes.

Much of this photography is among the most famous in history, Soviet troops raising the flag over the Reichstag, men of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade dragging casualties from the sea on Omaha Beach, the flag raising on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. However, the photographers that made these images are largely unknown. It is rare that anyone should wonder the context in which an image was created.

Almost our entire perception of the Second World War comes from black and white windows of fleeting moments, milliseconds of action in an often chaotic environment. However, there was a time when that moment was very much in colour, very much alive, and there was someone behind the camera, someone that witnessed these moments first hand. Someone in very real danger.

The concept for this book came about back in 2014. We had been collaboratively researching Signal Photographic Companies for two years in addition to our living history work, which was at the time much more focused on the operation of specific U. S. Army infantry divisions. Our early research on the deployment and operation of 60mm mortar squads allowed us to start working on location, initially within the town of Walditch, where E and G Companies of the 16th Infantry Regiment were stationed during their time in the United Kingdom. Alongside several members of our living history group, our personal contribution to the preservation of regimental history was commended by the 16th Infantry Regiment Association, opening the door to new partnerships overseas. Opportunities to visit other locations in the UK, in addition to those in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the United States, cemented our interest in experiencing the locations that we were researching.

Simultaneously to our site visits, we began to combine our pre-existing interest in photography with our historical research, purchasing Signal Corps 4x5” Speed Graphic cameras for stills and Eyemo 35mm cameras for motion pictures. Our personal work in the arts organically developed into an appreciation for its use in the Second World War, and before long we were researching the technical method of U. S. Army Signal Corps photography and laboratory practices. Our cameras would accompany us to the sites they once photographed.

There is something deeply moving about standing on a landscape that marked history. We can achieve this in a more general sense (visiting a battlefield, for example), but in the case of photography, we can also be specific. It is perhaps the pinnacle of photographic research to stand on the spot where an historic image was made.

For us, the opportunities we had overseas not only facilitated site visits, but allowed us to follow the photographic process and the journeys of individuals. Take a Signal Corps photograph. Pull the caption card. Who was the photographer? What Company was he in? What Detachment? This information forms the basis of our understanding of the individual. What date was the photograph made? What unit was he attached to? Now, viewing the company morning reports we know the other members of his team. Perhaps we can even find corresponding motion picture footage of the same event. Now we know his partner. Cross referencing with our records, we can view their entire military career; when they entered the U. S. Army; how they found their way into the photographic corps; their individual training; movements; deployment; previous actions; even personal anecdotes concerning the individuals. We now know who the photographers were. Next, study situation maps. Where was the unit they were attached to on the date the photograph was made? Visit the location and follow the route of advance.

Matching what we see in the ground glass of our period cameras to original photographic prints, we are able to stand on the exact ground where the individual was when the photograph was made. We are able to follow his footsteps, often simply turning or walking a mere few yards to find another photograph from this photographer’s series. The feeling that comes with the words: “I am stood, where he stood” is not easily described. It is a comparison of the current location, and the location as it was, that in some way transcends historical research. Often the absolute silence, rustling leaves or birdsong carried on the wind offers a stark contrast to the discharge of ordnance, stumbling of troops and the clanking of tank destroyers that occupy the soundtrack of the past.

To us, it became increasingly clear that the stories of these men had to be told. Not only are the images they produced a rich resource for historians, but they shaped society. It was difficult to understand why the story of such influential material and the people that created it had not been widely shared. We began reviewing existing publications, but they were few and incomplete. Eager to learn more, we drew thousands of pages of documents from the vaults of the National Archives and Records Administration, but often had to wait as we sent files off for restoration. Many of the files had not been opened since they were placed in storage in 1945. It was then that we realised that we possessed information that others did not, and the horrifying thought dawned on us, that perhaps we were to write the book.

The culmination of a decade of research, this book is the story of the U.S. Army Signal Corps soldiers that recorded and documented World War Two. It encompasses the history of the Army’s efforts to photograph combat and explores how an untrusted and underprepared Photographic Division grew to produce an extraordinary body of work that would define a generation. Told using archive documents, interviews, and photographic material, this is the most comprehensive account to date. Drawing on a combined experience of over 20 years of Living History and experimental archaeology, we hope to bring to life the equipment and operations of the men in the field.