Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

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Both of the above pictures were taken during Crimea, but despite the confusing title ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death”, it was not across this surface that the Light Brigade made its doomed charge. [Tennyson, in his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” writes about “the valley of death,” not “the valley of the shadow of death”.]

This confusion might have been deliberately fostered by the photographer Roger Fenton himself who allegedly manipulated photos too. One of the pictures has several cannonballs on the road, the other portrays an empty road. Opinions differ concerning which one was taken first. Some note the photo without the cannonballs was taken first, and Fenton deliberately placed them on the road to enhance the image. Some say the photo with cannonballs was taken first, and the soldiers in the process of removing them for reuse. Long essay were written about these pictures, which along with the Charge of the Light Brigade itself, is one of the enduring mysteries of the Crimean War.

Roger Fenton –who once studied in the studio of Paul Delaroche — was a well-to-do Englishman who left a career in law to devote himself to photography. He went to Crimea to produce the world’s first war coverage at the urging of Prince Albert, who wanted to show to the British public the horrors of war. However, the size of his equipment and the primitive nature of photography meant that he could only take pictures of unmoving and posed pictures; Fenton’s Crimean War pictures were considered to be discrete by the bloody standards of battlefield imagery to come. On his return, he showed his images in London and Paris, but they were never popular. By 1862, he had abandoned photography and returned to law practice. Fenton died forgotten, even by the Royal Photographic Society which he helped found in 1853.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 22, 2009 at 9:40 am

Posted in War

Tagged with ,

6 Responses

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  1. […] Carl Baptiste de Szathmary (1812-1887), who took his camera to the Crimea a year before more famous Roger Fenton arrived two years later. In 1853, he was documenting the conflict between Russia and Turkey over Wallachia and other […]

  2. I put together a quick comparison of the two photos that convinced me that, although the cannonballs had clearly been tampered with, Fenton did not “fake” the photograph.

    Emmet Connolly

    June 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

  3. Fenton and the photos were featured in this week’s Radiolab. It’s what lead me here. Errol Morris examined the photos as part of his new book and found that the pictures of the cannonballs scattered on the hillside were taken first and the pictures of them in the road was taken second. Great write-up.


    September 25, 2012 at 6:40 pm

  4. Na


    March 16, 2015 at 6:03 pm

  5. […] to capture the speed of the moment in it’s entirety. Gersht also cites Roger Fenton and his photo of the Valley of Death from the Crimean War. Fenton was under orders not to show dead people! Instead he illustrated the […]

  6. permaculture design

    Adriene Mclelland

    August 3, 2016 at 11:34 pm

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