Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

email signup Blog Video Facebook Twitter Instagram

Roger Fenton:

An Inventory of His Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Fenton, Roger, 1819-1869
Title: Roger Fenton Photography Collection
Dates: 1854-1860
Extent: 365 items
Abstract: This collection contains photographs by Roger Fenton from several published portfolios documenting the Crimean War. These are portraits of soldiers and officers, images of camp conditions and fortifications, and include British, French, and Turkish forces. Also part of the collection are photographs of objects in the collection of the British Museum, as well as landscape and architecture photographs.
Call Number: Photography Collection PH-00023
Language: English
Access: Open for research. Please note: This collection contains light sensitive materials and must be viewed under low-level lighting. Some materials may be restricted from viewing. To make an appointment or to reserve photography materials, please contact the Center's staff at photography@hrc.utexas.edu.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Centers' Open Access and Use Policies.



Preferred Citation Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Roger Fenton Photography Collection (Photography Collection PH-00023).
Acquisition: Purchases, 1964 and 1980
Processed by: Elizabeth E. Preston, 2018
Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin,


Roger Fenton was born at Crimble Hall in Lancashire, England on 28 March 1819. His father, John Fenton (1791-1863), had inherited a sizeable mill and banking fortune, and served as a Member of Parliament and Justice of the Peace for the County of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. He had seven children with Fenton's mother, Elizabeth Apedaile, who 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 law at University College in London, but put his law studies aside to study painting. In 1841 or 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 1853. 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 why Fenton 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 on that path were mediocre, and he was ambivalent about a career in law. Fenton returned to Paris in 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 process and began to think of photography as an art unto itself. Le Gray also demonstrated ways for a photographer to earn money though official commissions, fees from students, and producing photographs of works of art.
Fenton undertook his first large-scale traveling photography project in 1852 when he documented the construction of a bridge in Kiev, then part of the Russian Empire. He also 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 his equipment. On his return to England, Fenton successfully exhibited and sold prints from this trip. Soon after this success, the British Museum commissioned Fenton to photograph works in its collection. While this project was less complicated than the previous one, it allowed Fenton to perfect his techniques. He was also asked to photograph Queen Victoria and the 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 their attempts met with destructive storms and insurmountable difficulties, and none of their work survives. Fenton purchased a wine merchant's caravan and outfitted it as a dark room and living quarters. Financed by Manchester publisher Thomas Agnew & Sons, and with letters of introduction from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Fenton arrived in Balaklava in early March 1855. The previous winter had ravaged the English and French troops. A terrible storm in November 1854 had destroyed and disrupted supplies, unsanitary conditions weakened the 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 war, 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 took great advantage of his royal letters of introduction, dining and living with officers and generals. Given these circumstances, Fenton's images, while not pro-war propaganda, do not 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 the light was strong. Fenton's Crimean photographs are notable for the lack of blurring of the figures, even though exposure times were between three and twenty seconds. At the same time, they are not stiff or posed, but possess dynamism and composition that expresses motion and action. Fenton brought with him several cameras, some quite large in order to capture the broad landscapes and produce large prints. Fenton took portraits of officers, generals, and soldiers, and documented camp life and the wide array of uniforms used by regiments, He also captured many landscapes, and photographed military fortifications and artillery. As the spring progressed and the temperature on the exposed plains increased, however, Fenton had trouble treating the plates with collodion, exposing the plates, and developing the negative before the collodion dried. The quality of the light changed as the temperature rose, and the exposure times required increased. Fenton witnessed heavy English and French losses on 7 and 18 June in attacks on Russian positions. Soon after, Fenton sold his caravan and sailed 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 took a small selection to Paris on a state visit to Napoleon III. Fenton and his publisher mounted an exhibition of the photographs in October, and between 1 November 1855 and 5 April 1856 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 money. He returned to photographing works of art for the British Museum. He also traveled throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, photographing churches, abbeys, castles, large 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 and returned to the practice of law, selling his equipment and negatives at auction. He never gave a real explanation for his unexpected departure from the photographic world. It is 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 the late 1850s and early 1860s saturated the photographic market and made his publications less 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 champion of the need for a learned society to support the efforts of photographers in England. He was one of the first wartime photographers and shaped how Great Britain understood the Crimean War.

Baldwin, Gordon, Malcolm Daniel, Sarah Greenough, Roger Fenton, and National Gallery of Art (Washington, D. C.) All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852-1860. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
Fenton, Roger. Roger Fenton: Photographer of the Crimean War; His Photograph and His Letters from the Crimea. With an Essay on his Life and Work by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim. New York: Arno Press, 1973.
Pare, Richard. Roger Fenton. Aperture Masters of Photograph 4. New York: Aperture, 1987.

The Roger Fenton Collection contains 363 items. It is divided into 3 series. Series I consists of 331 photographs Fenton took between March and June 1855 documenting the Crimean War. Portraits and groups of officers and soldiers, including the English, French, and Turkish forces, make up the majority of this series, but there are also landscapes, panoramas, military fortifications, and military equipment. The photographs capture camp life, soldiers' and officers' quarters, how they spent their non-working hours, and how various armies interacted with each other. Fenton's photographs were published and sold by subscription in several portfolios between 1 November 1855 and 5 April 1856. The portfolios include Historical Portrait Gallery: Photographs Taken in the Crimea; Incidents of Camp Life. Photographs Taken in the Crimea; and Photographs Taken in the Crimea. The actual portfolios are undated, so it is difficult to determine which prints belong in which portfolio. Photographs Fenton took of the plains around Balaklava and Inkerman, as well as near Sevastopolʹ, were published and sold by subscription in portfolios separate from the other photographs Fenton took during the Crimean War. Those portfolios are Photographic Panoramas of the Plains of Balaklava and Valley of Inkermann and The Photographic Panorama of the Plateau of Sebastopol. All of the portfolios included a page dedicating the work to Queen Victoria. The photographs are all salted paper prints of various sizes on white paper mounts. Printed information appears on the mounts, and varies by portfolio. Many, but not all, include a published title, and most include a publication statement and retailers. Salted paper prints are light sensitive and subject to fading. Some prints in the collection have faded and lost a degree of detail, especially the details in the far background of landscapes. Most, however, are in very good condition and show a high degree of contrast.
Series II contains 22 photographs Fenton took of pieces of art in the British Museum after his return from the Crimean War. The trustees of the museum hired Fenton to photograph its collections before he documented the Crimean War, and on his return he resumed work for them. These are all albumen prints on white paper mounts. Most of the photographs are of Roman busts, but there is one of an etching by Rembrandt. The busts appear to have been photographed outside, possibly on the roof of the British Museum, in very basic conditions. These do not appear to be published prints and have information identifying them handwritten on the mounts.
Series III contains 10 photographs Fenton took during travels in England, Scotland, and Wales. They include ruins, architecture, and landscapes. The photographs are all albumen prints of various sizes on white mounts.

The Ransom Center also holds a volume of photographs Fenton made of collections in the British Museum. Fenton, Roger. Photographs of Drawings, etc. in the British Museum. Photographs by Roger Fenton. London: Colnaghi, 1857-1858.

The portfolio cases that originally held the photographs have been cataloged separately. They include:
  • Historical Portrait Gallery: Photographs Taken in the Crimea, by Roger Fenton. Manchester: Agnew & Sons, [1855-1856].
  • Incidents of Camp Life. Photographs Taken in the Crimea, by Roger Fenton. Manchester: Agnew & Sons, [1855-1856].
  • Photographic Panoramas of the Plains of Balaklava and Valley of Inkermann. Manchester: Agnew & Sons, [1855-1856].
  • The Photographic Panorama of the Plateau of Sebastopol. Manchester: Agnew & Sons, [1855-1856].
  • Photographs Taken in the Crimea; Under the Patronage of Her Majesty the Queen, by Roger Fenton. Manchester: Agnew & Sons, [1855-1856].

People

Bosquet, Pierre François Joseph, 1810-1861.
Fenton, Roger, 1819-1869.
Kmety, György, 1810-1865.
Ömer Lûtfi Paşa, 1806-1871.

Subjects

Architectural photography.
British Museum.
Crimean War, 1853-1856.
Military personnel--British--Ukraine--Crimea--1850-1860.
Military personnel--French--Ukraine--Crimea--1850-1860.
Photography, Military.
Photography of art.
War photography.

Places

Balaklava (Ukraine).
Inkerman (Ukraine).
Sevastopolʹ (Ukraine).
Ukraine.

Document Types

Albumen prints.
Photographic prints.
Salted paper prints.