Shannon Perry: World War II Colour Photographs

Shannon Perry
by Robert Lansdale

Shannon Perry is a member of Library and Archives Canada in Gatineau Hills, Quebec. She holds a Masters degree in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management from Ryerson and GEH. Shannon is interested in the 19th century Canadian photographic industry and will begin working towards a PhD in Canadian Photographic History at De Montfort University in Leicester, England this fall.

Shannon’s talk tonight touched on a period that is unfamiliar to most of us. These are the recently discovered selection of World War II (WWII) colour photographs. Many people are unaware that colour film existed before WWII. Kodachrome was released in 1935 for 16mm movies and a year later for 35mm slide film. By November 1938 there was a professional Kodachrome available for use as sheet film and for aerial photography*.

Shannon explained that the Library and Archives (LAC) collection has about 30 million photographic items which are a mixture of private and government acquisitions. Of this volume only a small portion is searchable online and even less have a digitized image attached to the description.

In 2008, the LAC was the recipient of over 900 thousand photographic items from the Canadian Forces Joint Imagery Centre (CFJIC) which was the old DND Photographic unit. The photographs were a mix of B&W and colour dating from WWII to the lat 1990s. An inquiry to the CFJIC suggested the colour component of the transfer was a minuscule roll or so of colour. Surprisingly, the colour images totalled far more than the single roll suggested. In this talk, Shannon selects less than a hundred of those photographs to discuss. All those discussed can be pulled up on line at the LAC site and inspected or printed. (Note: click on any of the image strips to see a slide show of the images shown.)

The images are from the “Canadian Film and Photo Unit” which was formed in 1941 under the command of Captain William Abell of Winnipeg, and staffed by enlisted Canadians. Their goal was to capture Canadian military personnel in action for the DND, primarily for public relations use. 

Records show that by the end of WWII, fifty nine Canadian photographers and cameramen had been involved in combat operations in Europe with six of them killed and eighteen wounded. Shannon showed a few of the images in both B&W and colour so we could see the dramatic impact colour had on the subjects. She explained that no effort was made to correct the colour balance or exposure of the photographs. Hence, some are beautiful while others are struggling to show the benefits of colour. 

The LAC site offers this summary of the colour photographs:
   “Colour transparencies from the Canadian Army, with the assigned prefix ZK. The images date from the later days of WWII through Korea, and peace time. Most of the images are staged and/or public relations opportunities such as parades, formal dignitary visits, etc.
   “The ZK series WWII coverage includes Canadian troops in France, Holland, Germany and Italy, as well as bases and training in Canada. It also includes portraits of notable military figures, CWAC in Europe and Canada, and images of post D-Day landing in Normandy photographed by Canadian Film and Photo Unit member Ken Bell.”

The late Ken Bell spoke to the PHSC back in March of 1986. Some of his work was discussed by Robert Lansdale in the June 2004 E-Mail Newsletter. Bob recalls that Ken Bell always preferred using the Rollei 2 1/4 square twin lens camera.

A selection of the images are shown on the PHSC web site while all can be seen on the LAC web site by calling up the “ZK” number. You can go to this site and query “ZK prefix” to get a complete list of the 3,000 plus colour photographs. Note that not all are available on line.

After a very interesting overview of the selected WWII images Shannon hosted a very active Q&A session before wrapping up her presentation which can be seen on a video created by Ed Warner and available from our librarian on request.
*Bob Lansdale reminds us that “There was also the 4×5 and up to 8×10 film made available for commercial use. Ev Roseborough told the story of having to drive all night around Lake Ontario (no QE at that time) to get to Rochester for the morning process schedule. He waited till it was finished then phoned to say it was OK, so they could tear down the set.”

This page was designed in WordPress on an iMac running OS X 10.7 (Lion). Ms Perry was taken by Bob Lansdale after the talk. All other images are  courtesy of Ms Perry taken   directly from her PowerPoint presentation. The presentation images are ©2011 by LAC and may used only with permission from the Library and Archives, Canada. Contents and all other images are ©2011 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Copies of photographs displayed during this presentation may not be used without the copyright holder’s permission. Contact PHSC at if you would like more information on the items discussed in this post.

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