Roger Fenton produced among the first major photo records of a war zone
As well as the medical, technical and strategic innovations emerging on 19th century battlefields, a new art form was also changing the way war was depicted to the outside world. In previous centuries, battlefields were exclusively displayed in paintings, often dramatic and heroic in content, presenting a grand and mostly romanticised version of war. With the great advances of camera technology during the 1800s, there was a new opportunity to capture more realistic images of war. A law graduate with a love of art, Roger Fenton became attracted by the potential of photography, and took a camera with him on a trip to Russia in 1852, photographing bridges, architecture and landscapes. After the outbreak of the Crimean War, Fenton received a commission to document the war in photographs from printmaker Thomas Agnew & Sons. The result was one of the first extensive photographic records of war. Fenton spent four months in Crimea, capturing 360 images of the officers, men and landscapes of the conflict. Though not financially successful, the series of images provide an invaluable insight into the Crimean War.
“FENTON SPENT FOUR MONTHS IN CRIMEA, CAPTURING 360 IMAGES OF THE OFFICERS, MEN AND LANDSCAPES OF THE CONFLICT”
Titled ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’, this depicts a cannon shot-strewn section of the road to Sevestopol. Perhaps one of the most iconic images from the war, there has long been debate over whether Fenton manipulated the scene, in particular the cannon balls, in order to provide a more dramatic effect. Nonetheless the photograph remains a powerful depiction of war’s brutality, and for many is reminiscent of the fateful charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava.
Fenton produced several portraits of himself, dressed in the uniforms of various iconic units and line infantry, here playing the part of a French zouave soldier.