Flashback: It’s always hard to say who was first but Roger Fenton was definitely an original, and, some say, the first to officially shoot the Crimean war when he went there in
1885 1855 (H/T: wiredthoughts).
Despite high temperatures, breaking several ribs, and suffering from cholera, he managed to make over 350 usable large format negatives. An exhibition of 312 prints was soon on show in London. Sales were not as good as expected, possibly because the war had ended. Fenton was sent to the Crimean War as the first official war photographer at the insistence of Prince Albert. The photographs produced were to be used to offset the general aversion of the British people to an unpopular war, and to counteract the antiwar reporting of The Times. The photographs were to be converted into woodblocks and published in the less critical Illustrated London News, published in book form and displayed in a gallery. Fenton avoided making pictures of dead, injured or mutilated soldiers.
Why do we bring Fenton up? Because we’ve been reading Errol Morris’ excellent new book Believing is Seeing, which spends a considerable amount of time reflecting on the truthiness of what Fenton actually shot while in Crimea.
At issue is whether Fenton staged scenes to exaggerate what was happening there and, if so, what does that actually mean for photography as a lens onto what is really happening in the world.
For background, see Morris’ blog about the issue at the New York TImes and/or Jim Lewis’ response to Morris via Slate.
Image: Marcus Sparling seated on Roger Fenton’s photographic van. Wikimedia Commons.