Captain Albert K. Dawson (left) and Signal Corps photographers, November 1917. Soldiers learning to sight with 4x5 Graflex camera. Photograph copyrighted Brown & Dawson.
Born in Vincennes, Indiana, Albert K. Dawson (1885-1967) was one of the most enterprising cameramen of the First World War. Shortly after the outbreak of the Great War he went to Europe and filmed with the German army on the Western Front. In the summer of 1915 he joined the Austro-Hungarian forces during the attack on Russian Poland. He later covered the Bulgarian army in the Balkans. Dawson's movies were released in the United States by the American Correspondent Film Company in 1915-1916. We have described his film adventures in more detail in our books American Cinematographers in the Great War (2014), as well as Shooting the Great War: Albert Dawson and the American Correspondent Film Company (2013).
Training the first official US photographers
From Photographers Association News, December 1917
Graflex and Kodak camera trainingThe photographs that we found seem to have been taken for the Commitee on Public Information, America's wartime propaganda agency. These pictures show Dawson teaching his soldiers how to sight with Graflex and Kodak roll-film cameras. The photographs all have a "Brown & Dawson" copyright, the photographic firm that he worked for. There is also an interesting picture in this collection, showing one of his recruits learning how to handle a 3A Kodak camera. The copyright reference on this picture has Dawson's personal handwriting. Another picture has an interesting reference to the U.S. Engineer's School of Photography at Washington Barracks. Apart from the Signal Corps the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also sent soldiers to Washington Barracks for instructions in photography, as part of a course in military topography. Dawson may also have trained engineers at this place.
As mentioned before in an earlier weblog, the National Archives is doing a terrific job digitizing its World War I collection and as a result these gems from the past are now available for the public just by accessing their website. Apart from Dawson and his squad of Signal Corps cameramen, this picture file at the National Archives also has a number of interesting shots showing American military cameramen training in aerial photography during World War I.
We have uploaded these pictures featuring Dawson and his cameramen on our Flickr photo channel.