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Roger Fenton

Text from Wikipedia

Fenton, Roger
English, 1819-1869

Roger Fenton (1819-1869) was a pioneering British photographer, one of the first war photographers.

Fenton was born in Heywood, halfway between Bury and Rochdale in Lancashire, England. His father was a wealthy Lancashire cotton manufacturer and banker, and Fenton was the fourth of seven children by his first wife. (After she died, he remarried and had a further ten).

In 1838 he went up to University College London where he graduated with a BA degree (a general arts degree) in 1840. In 1841, he began to study painting with historical painter Edward Lucy. Lucy arranged for him to finish his course in Paris in the studio of Paul Delaroche between 1842-1843. In 1843 Fenton married Grace Maynard. He also began studies in Law, qualifying as a solicitor in 1847. Later he qualified as a barrister, though he chose to remain working as a solicitor.

Fenton visited the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 and was impressed by the photography on display there. He then visited Paris to learn the waxed paper calotype process, most likely from Gustave Le Gray, its inventor. By 1852 he had photographs exhibited in England, and travelled to Kiev, Moscow and St. Petersburg making calotypes there, and photographed views and architecture around Britain. He published a call for the setting up of a photographic society.

In 1855 Fenton went to the Crimean War on assignment for a print dealer to photograph the troops, with photographic assistant Marcus Sparling, two servants and a large van of equipment. Despite high temperatures, breaking several of his 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 came to an end. According to Susan Sontag, in her work Regarding the pain of Others (ISBN 0374248583) (2003), 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. Pictures produced were to be converted into woodblocks and published in the less critical Illustrated London News as well as being published in book form and displayed in a gallery. The War Ministry ordered Fenton to avoid pictures of dead, injured or mutilated soldiers.

Due to the size and cumbersome nature of photographic equipment of the times, Fenton was only able to produce pictures which had previously been posed. Only two of his photographs were not posed, and these were taken of an area near to where the Light Brigade - made famous in Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" - was ambushed, called The Valley of the Shadow of Death, although not in the same valley. Two pictures were taken of this area, the first being as Fenton found it and the second a rearranged scene with cannonballs and other wreckage and remains moved to create a more exciting image. Fenton may, therefore, have also been the first photographer to fake or falsify pictures. Several of Fenton's pictures, including the two versions of The Valley of the Shadow of Death, are published in The Ultimate Spectacle: A Visual History of the Crimean War by Ulrich Keller (ISBN 9057005697) (2001).

Fenton made studio genre studies based on romantically imaginative ideas of Muslim life, such as a Seated Odalisque (See Picture), using friends and models who were not always convincing in their roles.

Fenton is considered the first war photographer for his work during the Crimean War, for which he used a mobile studio called a "photographic van".


 


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