'Sur le Vif'


a French Magazine Shows War as it Really Is


The French newsmagazine 'Sur le Vif' (meaning 'Taken from Life', Live Action' or 'Candid Views') was more or less similar to 'Le Miroir' or 'J'ai Vu' in content and appearance. A new publication created especially to sell war photos and news, it was quite inexpensive and published from a predominately French point of view. Even though 'Sur le Vif' wished to portray its photographic material as being all authentic and straight from the front lines, unlike its competitors 'Le Miroir' or 'J'ai Vu', obviously posed and staged photos regularly made their way into the pages and covers of the magazine, somewhat belying its catchy title. And yet, though at first glance an unimpressive publication, aside from the odd posed photograph, most of the other material was generally quite original and showed views of life in and behind the front-lines, often of humorous situations and occurences.

As an editorial gimmick or perhaps out of genuine patriotism, it is hard to distinguish one from the other at times, 'Sur le Vif' offered to publish photos of all French officers or soldiers who were missing in action and of which no definitive news was known. (Potential) widows or relative were invited to send portraits of the missing soldiers to the editorial offices, who then solemnly and sincerely vowed to publish these portarits in 'Sur le Vif' at no cost whatsoever. The intention was that perhaps someone would be able to offer information about the missing loved ones and so at least set the grieving hearts to rest.

On the following page we show several of such pages of missing officers and soldiers. Note that while in the first issues the number of portraits is relatively manageable, by later issues it is obvious that the number of French soldiers missing in action was enormous. By issue number 41 it was decided to cease publication of such portarits, possibly because of the hopelessness of ever completeing the task, but also more likely because of the demoralising effects on the general public of seeing so many officers and poilus, who were more than likely killed in action. And when one knew that the number of officially known casualties was many times higher than those 'simply' missing, the debilitating effect on morale was even greater.


left : a Belgian armored car durimng the siege of Antwerp
right : helping a wounded soldier


top : advertising for binding covers
bottom : self-congratulatory message on the search for prisoners-of-war by the editors



Back to Introduction