Posted by: simmo22hmtholyokeedu | December 18, 2018

Roger Fenton and Proto Photoshop

In our discussion of the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron, we discussed the way she manipulated her images through darkroom processes and by scratching the plates. This got me thinking about how other early photographers altered their images.

In my research, I found out about Roger Fenton. Though he didn’t actually manipulate the photographic process, it seems he changed his images in order to convey a specific story.

Roger Fenton was commissioned by the British government to travel to Crimea to take photographs that would reassure the public that the particularly brutal war was not a complete disaster. In February of 1855, he set out for Russia with his camera equipment. The most famous image he took there is called The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which depicts the landscape following a violent battle. Fenton himself didn’t choose this name, rather it was taken from an Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem and added to the photograph during its first exhibition. 

The reason that this photograph is considered manipulated is that there are two versions. In the first, there are cannonballs and shrapnel scattered over the road haphazardly. In the second, the road is clear. This has led many to the question; Which photograph is the “real” image of this valley after a battle? Because no one knows for sure which photograph was taken first, there really is no way to know for sure.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.19.53 AM.png

Cannonballs

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.18.40 AM

 No cannonballs

What drew me to these images is the idea that even before it was really possible to manipulate photographs via modern means like photoshop, people were still messing with their images to manipulate the information conveyed. Though people in the Victorian era conceptualized photography as a medium that told the “truth,” in reality the images they were seeing were always staged in some way or another.

Sources:

Groth, Helen, “Technological Mediations and and the Public Sphere: Roger Fenton’s Crimea Exhibition and the ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Victorian Literature and Culture, 30.2 (2002), pp. 553-570.

Halkyard, Stella, “Brought to Light’: Roger Fenton, Photography, and the Crimean War’, PN Review, 39.4 (2003), p. 1.

“More than Mere Photographs: The Art of Roger Fenton”, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 56.4 (1999), pp. 24-31.


Responses

  1. What a great literal representation of this concept. What does it mean to have the cannon balls there versus not having them? And why would a photograph without the cannon balls be taken at all? This also contrasts interestingly with the other war photography that we looked at in class, which all highlights the bloodiness of war, featuring bodies and skulls. This seems to be a pretty tame vision of war by comparison, showing cannon balls as a way to express what had gone on there, or what they wanted to have gone on there, is such a specific way of doing so. They also appear to be scattered so precisely on the road, not even in a fashion that makes sense with the way cannon balls are fired and land. (Though I don’t have a lot of experience with cannon ball logistics.) What an interesting mystery!


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