Letters from the Crimea

Thursday 26 January 2006

Roger Fenton was the first photographer to take a camera to war, in 1855. The letters he wrote to his family and business as­so­ci­ates during this campaign can now be read on the web. Along with the 25 letters there are some introductory essays and a good collection of links.

Fenton's photographic van.gif

Roger Fenton’s photographic van [image from the website, based on a Fenton photograph].
For Fenton, undertaking a photographic trip to the Crimea posed a number of practical and logistical problems, especially in 1854 when the physical requirements of the wet collodion process meant that every negative had to be carefully prepared on the spot. Working the process was a complex and painstaking business that required manual dexterity and a comprehensive understanding of photo­graphic chemistry. In common with other photographers of the period Fenton used a mobile darkroom whenever he worked outdoors, and for his expedition to the Crimea he decided to take a carriage that had begun life in the service of a wine merchant. It was a substantial vehicle and by the time he had converted it into his ‘Photographic Van’ it contained everything needed to prepare and process negatives in the field. The sides were given windows of yellow glass fitted with shutters and into the roof he built a pair of cisterns to supply both distilled and ordinary water. At the far [sic] there was a bench to hold the baths and trays used to sensitise and develop negatives. Elsewhere, every inch of space was taken up with racks and frames designed to secure the contents of the darkroom in place. There was even a small bed that folded out from under the bench, just like a modern camper van.[from the website]
Fenton photograph
Roger Fenton, Cookhouse of the 8th Hussars, 1855. Salted paper print from glass negative; 15.9 x 20.3 cm; in the collection of the J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. [from a Metropolitan Museum online exhibition]

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