Signal Corps Photographic Center, later Army Pictorial Center
Of 1,400 Signal Corps cameramen on the Western Front in Europe, 32 were killed in action and more than a hundred were wounded.
When pictures failed to get through more often than not the cameraman had been forced to drop his equipment and fight with the infantry.
Millions of feet of motion picture film and thousands of still pictures were taken by Signal Corps photographers during World War II.
The Signal Corps Photographic Center (SCPC) in New York, under the supervision of the Army Pictorial Service, produced newsreels, historical chronologies, training films and many special productions. Thousands of still photographs were filed in the Still Picture Branch of the Army Pictorial Service in the Pentagon. Pictures published in newspapers and magazines featured the credit line: “U.S. Army Signal Corps”.
During the first two years of the war, the Army’s photographic activities suffered from administrative confusion, a lack of cooperation from Washington, a lack of pre-war planning, and the fact that few people understood the photographic responsibilities of the Signal Corps. Furthermore, all parts of the War Department wanted different things: the Bureau of Public Relations wanted dramatic pictures for public release; training officers wanted visual aids; and field staff needed tactical photos for immediate strategic uses. The situation improved, and by the latter half of the war, better organization of Signal Corps photo units permitted easier coverage of the war on all fronts. Combat experience and better training also helped to improve the quality of U.S. Army photography.
At the start of World War II, the U. S. Army acquired a defunct motion picture studio at 35th Avenue and 35th Street in Astoria, Long Island City, Queens, New York, taking over in February 1942. The studio became the Signal Corps Photographic Center, later Army Pictorial Center, home to filmmakers and still photographers who covered the war and who produced countless training films.
When the entry of the United States into World War II made it necessary for the APS to expand its facilities, the former Paramount Studios in Long Island City, New York were purchased. In April 1942 the Laboratory and the Photographic School were moved from Fort Monmouth to the Signal Corps Photographic Center, the name given to the Long Island installation.
By 1943, however, shortages of photographic supplies and APS Still Picture Library personnel necessitated culling the hundreds of thousands of pictures received. Pictures selected for retention had to meet a high standard for strategic, tactical, intelligence, instructional, informational, or historical value. By 1944, these standards were even more necessary, since over 10,000 combat photographs arrived at the library each month. By the end of the war, the library’s holdings amounted to more than 500,000 images.
The prestige of Signal Corps photography increased steadily throughout the war. Better organization of Signal Corps photo units permitted easier coverage of the war on all fronts, and combat experience and improved training also helped to upgrade the quality of Army photography. Thus, by 1945, the true value of U.S. Army photography was recognized both within the military and by the general public. “Combat photographers served as the eyes of the public as well as the Army; millions of Americans at home would have had a very hazy idea of how and where the war was being waged if they had not had the benefit of the newsreels and still pictures that the combat cameramen furnished.”
With the establishment of the Signal Corps Photographic Center the Army Pictorial Service became a major film producer, even by Hollywood standards. Writers, cameramen, directors, technicians and administrative personnel came to the Center from the industry through the Reserve Corps, direct commissions or recruitment by Selective Service. Many others with photographic backgrounds were trained for special jobs.
This Division continued to function until November 1945. Still picture activities remained at the Signal Corps Photographic Laboratory on the grounds of the Army War College until the fall of 1943, when new and larger quarters were provided in the Pentagon.
After serving as the Army’s photographic center, studio and film library for 28 years, the Army Pictorial Center was ordered closed in 1970. The studio fell into disuse, but was subsequently sold and renovated as Kaufman Astoria Studios, now a production center for top filmmakers.