The Theater of War: A brief overview of illustrated conflict reportage since the advent of photography

History of American Illustration

Jennifer Stoots
16th April 2013



Mom, I wouldn’t wish war on my worst enemy.

—John, U.S. Marine, twice deployed to Iraq


The invention of the printing press in 1448 revolutionized the way information could be reproduced and, subsequently, circulated. 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. 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 providing 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.


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