Pioneering Photography

Picture Credit – Roger Fenton

Group of the 47th Regiment in winter dress, ready for the trenches – Roger Fenton

Picture Credit

For the last few days I was stuck in bed nursing a cold, so I had plenty of time to spend Googling pictures and photographers. In between bouts of coughing and sneezing I found pictures of the Crimean war taken by Roger Fenton. Many people (especially Americans) believe that the American Civil war was the first to be photographically documented. However, this is not the case.

Despite the fact that in 1855 photography was still in its infancy, Roger Fenton was able to capture the spirit of the people fighting in the war. In these pictures one cannot see the actual combat, wounds or suffering from cold and hunger, however, one can see the hardship on the faces of the participants.

Contrary to later war pictures, for example those of Robert Capa, some of Fenton’s photographs romanticised the war, or at least showed it in a ‘gentle way’ . This was partly due to the limitations of contemporary technology but was also motivated by reasons of propaganda. The British government did not want to show the public the hardship caused by poor leadership and supply mismanagement. Nevertheless, Roger Fenton’s photographs pioneered documentary photography. The Crimean war is often presented as witnessing the dawn of modern nursing (symbolised by Florence Nightingale) and war reporting (the work of William Howard Russell – an Irish reporter with The Times). Although a wasteful and utterly futile conflict it also witnessed the beginning of war photography.

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