Shadows of War I The Queen’s Gallery

Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855

Roger Fenton is a towering figure in the history of photography, the most celebrated and influential photographer in England during the medium’s “golden age” of the 1850s. Shadows of War is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on Roger Fenton’s pioneering photographs of the Crimean War, taken in 1855. He was commissioned by the Manchester publisher Thomas Agnew & Sons to document the conflict, and his mission was very much supported by the government, which hoped that his photographs will reassure a worried public.

This exhibition showcases the documentation of the war and thus the first ever use of such photography. Fenton was already an accomplished and respected photographer when he was sent by the publishers Agnew’s to photograph a war that pitched Britain, France and Turkey as allies against Russia.  Arriving several months after the major battles were fought in 1854, Fenton focused on creating moving portraits of the troops, as well as capturing the stark, empty battlefields on which so many lost their lives. The exhibition features a photograph of Captain Lord Balgonie, who looks dishevelled. The image became symbolic as a first visual record, of those returning from war suffering from shell shock.

Published in contemporary newspaper reports, Fenton’s photographs showed the impact of war to the general public for the first time.  Through his often subtle and poetic interpretations Fenton created the genre of war photography, showing his extraordinary genius in capturing the futility of war.

Shadows of War is an extremely interesting exhibition with a vast collection presented to the public. Visitors are provided an audio guide on arrival (free of charge) which really adds to the whole experience. There is an exhibition album available to purchase, however a copy is available to read and view while circulating the exhibition. There is a corner where the album is situated and anyone is free to flick through it.

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