ON ASSIGNMENT: THE GREAT WAR – Review by Mark Barnes

I have worked in photo archives for donkey’s years, a genuine labour of love. I had to do research on Edward N Jackson because his name was new to me. It didn’t take long to realise that he was one of the greats, a true pioneer of news photography as we know it today. But I am sure his work is little known outside of the United States and hope this book will do something to reverse that fact.

When the author contacted us I assumed his book was brand new, but it has been available for nearly two years and what a shame it did not come my way earlier.

Joseph J Caro’s name appears on many website references to the photographer, so it is clear he has been working hard to highlight the work of his subject while quite rightly attempting to draw attention to his book. It’s a no brainer.

The book crams in a multitude of Eddie Jackson’s photographs which include his time in the company of the likes of Pancho Villa and photographing giants of finance like JP Morgan. Make no mistake, even without his contribution to Great War imagery, Eddie Jackson was the real deal. The photographs in this book are, at times, jaw dropping. Mr Jackson was a true operator as paparazzo, news photographer, portraitist and all round technical wizard. He designed things he needed to do his job. He was persistent and thoroughly professional. I would love to have met him.

I’ve mentioned it before, but this book has a similar look and feel to another American classic, the personal story of Dr Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson VC MC. There is a lot of love in this book which exudes enthusiasm for the subject.

We get a lot in Jackson’s own words and they propel that hint of naivety that seems a little other worldly from our oh so clever time and place. He travelled to the Western Front and served with the 27th Division from New York, one of two who fought their war under British command. I have read many accounts of the respect their Limey allies developed for them. The US Army had to hit the ground running and were hampered by some American commanders’ belief in outdated doctrine which had no place in a war of massed artillery, gas and machine guns. Jackson was in France and Flanders recording the immense progress of his comrades and his images show the period of the Hundred Days which led to the collapse of the Kaiser’s regime. In a nice touch, there is a Youtube video for the book which rolls along with a musical invitation to bury the hatchet… in the Kaiser’s head. The New Yorkers did their bit to make it happen.. in the figurative sense!

Some of Jackson’s aviation photography is genuinely brilliant. He spent time with aircrew learning to fly the Curtiss Jenny and his images of these aeroplanes are a delight. We see them in flight, in heaps and under repair. It’s all here.

After the war he found himself in company with President Wilson, visiting the battlefields and going through the circus of the Paris peace treaties. He came back to Europe several years later with parties of Gold Star Mothers, the still grieving ladies who had lost sons in the war. His pilgrimage images are evocative of the period.

You can’t help but like this book. Mine is a proof copy, it has some rough edges and if I was an established publisher I would like to see it expanded to make much more of the photography and have notes explaining the history for a modern audience.  I’d like to know more about Eddie’s archive and how it is maintained. In a glossier package it would make the sort of book I saw plenty of in the shop at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last summer. But don’t take this as a criticism. I am just being ambitious for the product’s possibilities.  The unique qualities of this book make it well worth having as it, but you will want more.

Eddie Jackson’s work is art and so much more besides. I always welcome books like this that have genuine love combined with the energy to make them happen. I am jealous! I would love to have the balls to get something together like this. I note on the internet that there are other books from this author concentrating on specific aspects of Jackson’s work. I would imagine most would be content with this impressive volume, but it depends how much of a sucker for classic photography one is. You will find the book on Amazon. You MUST find the book. It’s that simple.

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

Edward N Jackson – Photojournalist
Written and published by Joseph J Caro
Available from Amazon and other similar outlets.
ISBN: 978-1477548295

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.