British photographer Roger Fenton was one of the first to capture the look of war. In 1855 the already well-traveled photographer, who had served as official photographer of the British Museum, was commissioned by publishers T. Agnew and Sons, at the urging of the British government, to photograph the Crimean War (1854–1856). The British and French were allied with the Ottoman Empire against Russian expansion in the Balkan region in this brutal if mercifully short conflict, which originated in a dispute over guardianship of holy places in Jerusalem and Nazareth. In a four-month period, Fenton made nearly four hundred glass negatives—largely landscapes, portraits, and scenes of camp life such as The Men of the 68th Regiment. Mid-nineteenth-century photographic techniques were too slow and cumbersome, and British tastes too Victorian, for the kind of bloody imagery that would later characterize war reportage.
After returning from the Balkans, Fenton traveled extensively throughout England, Scotland, and Wales documenting the landscape and architectural heritage of these regions. Inspired by a French government commission in 1851 to document that country’s major historical monuments, he set about making his own survey. Celebrating the medieval cathedrals of Litchfield, Canterbury, and Salisbury, as well as the new Gothic Revival Houses of Parliament, his images of richly ornamented facades, towering spires, and dramatic interior light captured the neo-Gothic spirit of the time. Fenton’s Men of the 68th as well as a view of Litchfield Cathedral are included in Time’s Shadow, on view in the museum’s Theater Gallery, where admission is free.
Senior Curator for Collections