17 May 2005

The first war photographer

Many newspaper and magazine editors refuse to publish horrific images of wars or disasters. Many photojournalists also take on this attitude – some subjects they just don’t want to capture on film. They feel it would be wrong to do so. It’s a personal choice – and a dilemma in the most opportune of moments.

For Roger Fenton, however, there were no precedents. He was the first war photographer, sent to document the Crimean War by the British government. The British press had talked about chaos and incompetence in Crimea, and Fenton had to produce a positive report for his sponsors.

Fenton arrived in 1855 to find the truth was worse than what was reported by the British press at home. Although he wrote about many scenes of death and devastation, he did not capture them on film. Most of his photographs were quite boring – officers and soldiers, and the landscape. There were no pictures of battle, soldiers in combat, or death.

But remember, these were the first photographs to be taken during a war. Considering the light conditions and the technology available to him – and the fact that he couldn’t take his photographic van to the front line as it would make an easy target for enemy cannons – Fenton did a marvellous job. This was, after all, 1855.

You can access The Library of Congress archives of Fenton’s photographs – and read more about him in this excellent story by Peter Marshall in About.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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