Review of “The Vest Pocket Kodak & the First World War”

The Vest Pocket Kodak & the First World War
by Jon Cooksey with a foreword by Richard van Emden
published by Ammonite Press, 2017
ISBN 978 1 78145 279 0
Small format hardback; 91 pages; plus credits, bibliography and index; illustrated.
Cover price £7.99.

Confession before I begin: I know Jon Cooksey and Richard van Emden well, so I can’t be considered entirely neutral.

An interesting little book, produced to the same size as the “VPK” and, as the author shows, it is about the same as an iPhone with a 4″ screen. That is, handy enough to fit into a jacket pocket. The first half of the book takes us through the background to this little camera and the boom in personal photography that it fuelled from its introduction in 1912. This really was revolutionary, in that it took the camera out of the studio or the hands of the professionals and placed it into the grasp of the ordinary man. Well, almost: when introduced in Britain it cost £1-10-0 (£1.50) which was beyond the hopes of most working men. Even so it meant that, despite attempts to ban or suppress photography in the front lines of the Great War, these little cameras were present and used to great effect.

The book is illustrated throughout with a range of photographs taken by such a camera, and show British, Australian and German military scenes. There are men in training, at leisure and – of considerable interest to military historians – in the trenches. The clarity of the images is in most cases quite remarkable and a testament to the quality of the “VPK” despite its affordability. A few of the photographs have been used before; some many times. They include a shot from the ill-fated “River Clyde” steamer, run aground at “V” Beach at Gallipoli, and one of a British soldier advancing into the smoke, gas and gloom at Loos. I have seen a few of the others, but I suspect this may have been from talks given by the author rather than in book form. Others are novel (to me, anyway) and may be seeing published light of day for the first time: men of the Sikh 34th Pioneers in the trenches in France; a training drill with the 11th Devons; a sentry guarding German POWs in 1916, and others.

A nicely produced book, too, and at a reasonable price.

Buy it