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.