Photographic Mystery Solved

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Gerald C Koch, Aug 3, 2013.

  1. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    The British photographer Roger Fenton (1819 - 1869) was noted for his photographs of the Crimean War. He is the subject of a recent very interesting PBS radio special. One of his most famous photographs is titled "The Valley of the Shadow of Death." He has been accused of faking this photograph by making changes to the scene. Susan Sonntag believed that the scene had been manipulated. Here's where the mystery enters the debate. Another nearly identical photo exists showing no cannon balls on the road. An analysis of both photos shows that they were taken on the same day within hours of each other. Obviously the scene has been altered but which photo is the real one? Conventional analysis of shadows had failed to ascertain which one is the real one. The mystery remained unsolved for many years until recently. Under high magnification a crucial difference was noted, that is five pebbles had moved. Since pebbles do not roll uphill it became obvious which photo was taken first. The famous photograph had been faked by placing cannon balls on the road for a more dramatic effect.

    The first photograph from the site below shows the photograph in question. There are many more interesting photographs.

    http://allworld.startlogic.com/Crimean-War-Photographs-by-Roger-Fenton-1855.html
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 3, 2013
  2. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    I like the photographic van.

    Jeff
     
  3. Wayne

    Wayne Member

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    Maybe a kid came along kicking pebbles.
     
  4. Alan W

    Alan W Subscriber

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    I don't understand how the photo could have been "faked".He rearranged the cannonballs for the second photo,he also did not destroy the fist photo-both were/are available.Nothing was hidden.Should we limit ourselves to one shot of any particular scene?
     
  5. Two23

    Two23 Member

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    It was the camera bag for the time. :smile:


    Kent in SD
     
  6. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Fenton went to the Crimea at the urging of Prince Albert and the Duke of Newcastle (who was the war secretary) to document the conflict. The question remains whether it is ethical for a photographer to alter a scene. It was the second photo which appeared in newspapers of the day and other publications. Altering the scene certainly diminished its historical value. This is what bothered Susan Sonntag. It also puts into question all his other photographs.

    The following site describes the situation in more detail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Fenton
     
  7. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Provocative research. Obviously the cannon-balls were THERE at the scene to be scattered on the road.

    The cannon-balls would have been randomly scattered on the road in midst of battle, but right after things calmed down they would have been moved aside by people who wanted to use the road.

    I think Fenton re-created the scene he saw before the road was cleared (or if he didn't see it first-hand, it might have been as it was described to him by eyewitnesses, or he could have seen battles like it before and known what the scene would look like).

    So is it wrong to make a scene look like it would have appeared, when you come upon a scene that was recently altered?
     
  8. Ambar

    Ambar Member

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    Wow! If that's considered a "fake" or "fakery".. Most magazines nowadays should be considered hoaxes!
    The most amazing piece of news I read was that someone found 5 pebbles that moved!! Now thats a patient bloke with a keen eye.. :D
     
  9. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Interesting points. I would say that we will never know definitively as there is no mention in Fenton's notes. Still I feel he should have left the scene unchanged. If the road had been cleared for use after the battle then that information was destroyed. Again a matter of historical usefulness.
     
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  10. billbretz

    billbretz Member

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  11. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Thanks billbretz,

    Did you see all the comments in the blog? Whew. Sorry to add more wasted words of speculation.

    So he moved 100 yards to be out of range of Russian cannonballs coming his way... Maybe this is simply an hour and a half's worth of artillery aimed at the spot he was at - 100 yards in front of his camera.
     
  12. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    The photographs were taken after the battle and after all the soldiers had left the area. By all accounts of the time Fenton was very cautious and was adverse to putting himself in danger. He would not have been there during the bombardment.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 8, 2013
  13. analoguey

    analoguey Member

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  14. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Didn't he stop a cannon ball with his Nikon? If you look carefully it's the ball with a dent in it. The Nikon was undamaged, I understand.:cool:

    Maybe I am getting confused with another photojournalist story :D

    pentaxuser
     
  15. pbromaghin

    pbromaghin Subscriber

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    Applying 20th century ethics to 19th century behavior.