||Roger Fenton was born at Crimble Hall in Lancashire, England on 28 March 1819. His
John Fenton (1791-1863), had inherited a sizeable mill and banking fortune, and served
Member of Parliament and Justice of the Peace for the County of Lancashire and the
Riding of Yorkshire. He had seven children with Fenton's mother, Elizabeth Apedaile,
died in 1830, and ten more children with his second wife. Fenton studied at the University
of Oxford, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1840. He went on to read
University College in London, but put his law studies aside to study painting. In
1842 Fenton traveled to Paris, possibly to train under artist Paul Delaroche (1797-1856),
who used photography in the service of painting.
||Fenton returned to England in 1843, resumed his study of law, and married Grace Maynard
(1816-1886). He eventually worked as a solicitor, though he continued to paint and
photograph. He had several canvases accepted by the Royal Academy, joined the Photographic
Club in London when it formed in 1847, and helped found the Photographic Society in
During this time Fenton sought out instruction from English painter Charles Lucy (1814-1873)
and returned to Paris for further instruction in painting. It is unclear when and
began experimenting with photography as more than a tool for painting. Though he received
some critical encouragement in his painting career, it was clear that his prospects
path were mediocre, and he was ambivalent about a career in law. Fenton returned to
1851, again for instruction, this time from painter and photographer Gustave Le Gray
(1820-1884). It was with Le Gray that Fenton learned to use the waxed paper negative
and began to think of photography as an art unto itself. Le Gray also demonstrated
a photographer to earn money though official commissions, fees from students, and
photographs of works of art.
||Fenton undertook his first large-scale traveling photography project in 1852 when
documented the construction of a bridge in Kiev, then part of the Russian Empire.
photographed churches and buildings in Moscow. Fenton learned on this trip how to
orchestrate a complicated project, prepare negatives in the field, and safely move
equipment. On his return to England, Fenton successfully exhibited and sold prints
trip. Soon after this success, the British Museum commissioned Fenton to photograph
its collection. While this project was less complicated than the previous one, it
Fenton to perfect his techniques. He was also asked to photograph Queen Victoria and
royal family on several occasions.
||In the fall of 1854, Fenton began preparing to travel to Ukraine to document the
Russo-Turkish, or Crimean, War. Other photographers had gone to the Balaklava, but
attempts met with destructive storms and insurmountable difficulties, and none of
survives. Fenton purchased a wine merchant's caravan and outfitted it as a dark room
living quarters. Financed by Manchester publisher Thomas Agnew & Sons, and with letters
of introduction from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Fenton arrived in Balaklava
March 1855. The previous winter had ravaged the English and French troops. A terrible
in November 1854 had destroyed and disrupted supplies, unsanitary conditions weakened
soldiers, and cholera ran rampant through the camps. Fenton arrived to an early spring,
rebuilt rail lines, and generally improving conditions. He was there to document the
but the publisher, Thomas Agnew and Sons, hoped to make money on the expedition, and
Fenton's images could not offend the sensibilities of Victorian England. Fenton also
great advantage of his royal letters of introduction, dining and living with officers
generals. Given these circumstances, Fenton's images, while not pro-war propaganda,
show the worst of the Crimean War.
||Using glass plate negatives and the wet collodion process, Fenton successfully captured
striking images of generals, officers, landscapes, and panoramas in the spring, when
light was strong. Fenton's Crimean photographs are notable for the lack of blurring
figures, even though exposure times were between three and twenty seconds. At the
they are not stiff or posed, but possess dynamism and composition that expresses motion
action. Fenton brought with him several cameras, some quite large in order to capture
broad landscapes and produce large prints. Fenton took portraits of officers, generals,
soldiers, and documented camp life and the wide array of uniforms used by regiments,
captured many landscapes, and photographed military fortifications and artillery.
spring progressed and the temperature on the exposed plains increased, however, Fenton
trouble treating the plates with collodion, exposing the plates, and developing the
before the collodion dried. The quality of the light changed as the temperature rose,
the exposure times required increased. Fenton witnessed heavy English and French losses
and 18 June in attacks on Russian positions. Soon after, Fenton sold his caravan and
for England, arriving on 11 July 1855.
||Fenton managed to produce over 300 usable images under difficult circumstances. He
presented his work to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert almost immediately, who then
small selection to Paris on a state visit to Napoleon III. Fenton and his publisher
an exhibition of the photographs in October, and between 1 November 1855 and 5 April
offered them for sale by subscription. Altogether, Agnew published 360 views, groups,
portraits, and panoramas in several portfolios.
||Fenton's photographs of the Crimean War garnered him some recognition, but not much
He returned to photographing works of art for the British Museum. He also traveled
throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, photographing churches, abbeys, castles,
estate homes, and landscapes. In addition, he produced still life studies that compositionally
hearkened back to his studies as a painter. Fenton retired from photography in 1862
returned to the practice of law, selling his equipment and negatives at auction. He
gave a real explanation for his unexpected departure from the photographic world.
possible that photography's increasing relegation to a technical rather than artistic
pursuit discouraged him. Also possible is that the rise of the carte-de-visite in
1850s and early 1860s saturated the photographic market and made his publications
profitable. Fenton died after a short illness on 8 August 1869. Although he only practiced
photography for eleven years, Fenton contributed to the technical and aesthetic development
of the medium. He was a founding member of the Photographic Society and a forceful
of the need for a learned society to support the efforts of photographers in England.
one of the first wartime photographers and shaped how Great Britain understood the