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Roger Fenton

Text from On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography

Roger Fenton photographed in Russia in the early 1850s using paper negatives and then distinguished himself by photographing the Crimean War with the wet plate process. It is, however, in his architectural and landscape work that he shows an increasing restlessness with conventional approaches to photography and seems to anticipate a modern inclination toward abstract design. Like Benjamin Brecknell Turner, Fenton found that moving away from a building, to show all of it, often leads to graphically uninteresting photographs. And so, like Turner, he often moved in close, to show some part, and devised ways to keep the viewer's eye from wandering past the picture's borders. In Salisbury, The King's Gardens, Fenton placed the silhouetted central tree against the lighter ground of the cathedral, providing a bull's eye that rivets the eye to the center of the picture.

Fenton's landscapes made during the period from 1855 to 1860 show an overwhelming interest in pattern and shape, his concerns moving beyond the picturesque toward the definition of a new genre of landscape. In The Long Walk, Windsor, he constructs the picture out of the inverted T shaped path and allows the trees and bushes to mass into dark swells, again keeping the eye centered and driving it far off into the distance. The familiar serpentine line of the picturesque is absent again in Fenton's The Double Bridge on the Machno, transformed now into a corkscrew or vortex of motion drawing us into the center of the picture through repeated leaps of black and white first in the black pool reflecting white, jagged shapes, then up to the highlights and shadows to the right, across the silhouetted tree and down to the water and up, across and down again.


 


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