Roger Fenton

Roger Fenton (28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869) was a pioneering British photographer, one of the first war photographers.

Roger Fenton was born in Crimble Hall, then within the parish of Bury, Lancashire, on 28 March 1819. His grandfather was a wealthy cotton manufacturer and banker, his father a banker and Member of Parliament. Fenton was the fourth of seven children by his father’s first marriage. His father had 10 more children by his second wife.

In 1838 Fenton went to University College London where he graduated in 1840 with a “first class” Bachelor of Arts degree, having studied English, mathematics, Greek and Latin. In 1841, he began to study law at University College, evidently sporadically as he did not qualify as a solicitor until 1847, in part because he had become interested in studying to be a painter. Fenton visited the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in London 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 William Fox Henry Talbot, 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. His published call for the setting up of a photographic society was answered with its establishment in 1853; the Photographic Society, with Fenton as founder and first Secretary, later became the Royal Photographic Society under the patronage of Prince Albert.

In 1855 Fenton was sent to the Crimean War as the first official war photographer. He had the endorsement of the Duke of Newcastle, secretary of state for war, and the patronage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The resulting photographs may have been intended to offset the general aversion of the British people to an unpopular war and to counteract the occasionally critical reporting of correspondent William Howard Russell of The Times. The photographs were to be converted into woodblocks and published in the less critical Illustrated London News. Fenton took Marcus Sparling as his photographic assistant, a servant and a large van of equipment. Due to the size and cumbersome nature of his photographic equipment, Fenton was limited in his choice of motifs. Because the photographic material of his time needed long exposures, he was only able to produce pictures of unmoving objects, mostly posed pictures; he avoided making pictures of dead, injured or mutilated soldiers.

Fenton also photographed the landscape, including an area near to where the Light Brigade—made famous in Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”—was ambushed. His Versions of Valley of the Shadow of Death, with and without cannonballs  is a seminal image in war photography but also a controversial one because the two versions that exist show that Fenton repositioned the cannon balls in the second version to make the image more compelling. In letters home soldiers had called the original valley “The Valley of Death”, and Tennyson’s poem used the same phrase, so when in September 1855 Thomas Agnew put the picture on show, as one of a series of eleven collectively titled Panorama of the Plateau of Sebastopol in Eleven Parts in a London exhibition, he took the troops’—and Tennyson’s—epithet, expanded it as The Valley of the Shadow of Death with its deliberate evocation of Psalm 23, and assigned it to the piece; it is not the location of the famous charge, which took place in a long, broad valley several miles to the south-east. In 2007 film-maker Errol Morris went to Sevastopol to identify the site of this “first iconic photograph of war”. He identified the small valley, shown on a later map as “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”, as the place where Fenton had taken his photograph. Two pictures were taken of this area, one with several cannonballs on the road, the other with an empty road. Opinions differ concerning which one was taken first. Morris concludes that the photo without the cannonballs was taken first, but he remains uncertain about why balls were moved onto the road in the second picture—perhaps, he notes, Fenton deliberately placed them there to enhance the image. The alternative is that soldiers were gathering up cannonballs for reuse and they threw down balls higher up the hill onto the road and ditch for collection later. Other art historians, such as Nigel Spivey of Cambridge University, identify the images as from the nearby Woronzoff Road. This is the location accepted by the local tour guides.

Despite high temperatures, breaking several ribs, and suffering from cholera, in all Fenton managed to make over 350 usable large format negatives. An exhibition of 312 prints was soon on show in London, in the gallery of publisher Thomas Agnew. Sales were not as good as expected, possibly because the war had ended.

In 1858 Fenton made studio genre studies based on romantically imaginative ideas of Muslim life, such as Seated Odalisque, using friends and models who were not always convincing in their roles.

Although well known for his Crimean War photography, his photographic career lasted little more than a decade, and in 1862 he abandoned the profession entirely, selling his equipment and becoming almost forgotten by the time of his death seven years later. He was later formally recognised by art historians for his pioneering work and artistic endeavour. In recognition of the importance of his photography, Fenton’s photos of the Crimean war were included in the Life collection, 100 Photos that Changed the World.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Seawright

Paul Seawright is best known for his ‘late photography’ of battle-sites and minefields. He often uses vintage technology and a much older approaches to conflict photography. But rather than reportage, his images are made for museum-going audiences and gallery patrons by people who call themselves ‘artists’.

website

If it is too explicit it becomes journalistic. If it is too ambiguous, it becomes meaningless…The constriction of meaning is done by the person looking at it. The artist has to leave space for that’

‘Paul Seawright, Voice Our Concern Artist’s Lecture 2010’ is a 40 minute illustrated artists lecture by the artist photographer Paul Seawright given in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in November 2010. Paul talks about the use of photography in conflict situations as often being unreliable and how his work as a photographic artist is a response to this. He presents photographs from the Crimean war and discusses the influence of photographer Paul Graham on his work. He describes the difference between photo journalism and art in the context of artists defining their subjects and in the construction of meaning. He goes on to discuss and present examples of his Sectarian Murder Work series. This Voice Our Concern lecture was a joint project organised by IMMA and Amnesty International Ireland.

The Forest 2001

17 photographs of desolate roadside lay-bys, ditches and car parks shot at night and lit by what we assume to be streetlights. By day they would probably be ordinary, but at night with the lighting they take on a sinister tone (like images we are used to seeing in detective TV series). ‘Because there is such a division between what we can see and what we cannot see (the fall off of the light does not allow for much penetration into the forest edge) what belongs there (the trees, underbrush and roadside curbs) and what doesn’t belong there (us), these are photographs that place the viewer into the shoes of the vulnerable’ (Paul Seawright’s website)

Hidden (2002)

In 2002 Seawright was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum London to undertake a war art commission in Afghanistan.In spite of the climate in which they were made, have a cool, Becher-like objectivity to them. Tension is created by concealing as much as is revealed in the photographs and their caption. Through unorthodox framing, selective focusing in places, and at times seemingly banal viewpoints, there is a palpable sense of unease in this landscape that is strewn with concealed lethal hazards. For example another image shows recently dug up mines – done by hand because they cannot be identified with mine detectors against the rest of the iron in the land., as well as America’s most wanted outlaw, who would take a further nine years to track down. His photograph of shells in Afghanistan explicitly echoes Fenton’s famous image from the Crimea.

For some of the main images and reviews (eg John Stathatos) see: http://www.paulseawright.com/hidden/

Invisible Cities 2007   

after Italo Calvino book.

Seawright travelled to major cities in sub-Saharan Africa, exploring communities on the edge of conurbations, both geographically and socially. Comprises varied photographs, some of which are recognisable as landscape pictures, or environmental portraiture. None of the titles of the photographs refer to specific locations or people, which emphasises the indistinct nature and anonymity of these places and their inhabitants.

Bridge (2006) the road bridge, presumably an interchange of major roads on the edge of the city, cleanly divides the frame in two. A yellow bus heads along the road towards the city from, we suppose, the sanctuary of the suburbs, taking children to school or their parents to work. The sky is empty and bleak, echoed by the detritus that sprawls below, shielded by the flyover from the view of the bus’s passengers.

Things Left Unsaid

Biography

Paul Seawright is Professor of Photography and Head of Belfast School of Art at the University of Ulster. His photographic work is held in many museum collections including The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Tate, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, International Centre of Photography New York, Arts Councils of Ireland, England and N.Ireland, UK Government Collection and the Museum of Contemporary Art Rome. They have also been exhibited in Spain, France, Germany, Korea, Japan and China.  In 2003 he represented Wales at the Venice Biennale of Art and in 1997 won the Irish Museum of Modern Art/Glen Dimplex Prize. He is represented by the Kerlin Gallery Dublin.