Roger Fenton – Art Beyond War – #100GameChangers

No matter how much we may talk about it, and no matter how much we may talk about it here on Jugaad, photojournalism always hides pressing, heavy and difficult issues, especially when it comes to writing about the fieldwork of a photographer who has given his body and soul to guarantee the authenticity of the reportage. All the stories that are told have a personal touch, responding to the view of the person who has experienced them and can tell them in a totally objective manner, without transposing or interpreting.

Creating art out of photojournalism is a major undertaking; they are two different worlds with different goals, but they are not mutually exclusive. If we take a close look at some of the works of contemporary and older photographers, we can see the artistic tendency that some of their shots carried both as a merit and as a burden.

Is it possible, then, to create art from this kind of photography?

It is not unlikely.
At the time of the Crimean War, the question was somewhat different, as was the photojournalistic profession. It is only by analysing the origin of this activity that we are able to trace an evolutionary timeline, noting more clearly how it has passed from a ‘cleaner’ to a more ‘raw’ vision. There will also be several in-depth studies that will follow in the course of time here on Jugaad, as this is a subject that is particularly dear to us in the staff.
The focal point of this vast subject can be found in Roger Fenton, the pioneer of photojournalism, the first man to approach this kind of photography, finding himself on the battlefield armed only with his wagon and his view camera.

At the time, photojournalism did not exist; the photographer’s only aim was to show society the war, celebrating it in a patriotic way. A photographic style that would reappear in the years to follow, and that would accompany photojournalism until the arrival of Robert Capa and his shots. However, unlike Capa, Fenton had no preconceived notions about photojournalism and did not know what his real goal was, other than to show.

Without realising it, Fenton consecrated an emblematic moment, that is, the moment in which the war showed itself in people’s eyes, or rather only one side of it. As a matter of fact, if we look at Mr. Fenton’s photographs, the only elements we can observe at first glance are few, but good (with all the meanings that the adjective “good” can have): the heroic nature of the subjects, the military organisation and the vastness of the battlefield. Mr Fenton’s photography, rather than documenting, represents – in an excellent way – the atmosphere of the battle, but without revealing its consequences. This is probably due to the empathy that the British photographer had managed to create between his intentions and what he was experiencing directly, running away every day with his cart under the rifle shots of the Russian soldiers and working at dawn alongside some wounded soldiers.

Fenton had managed to listen to himself, by capturing The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death he had managed to give that extra touch to war shots, demonstrating that it is not always necessary to show what is happening in a direct and visceral way, the consequences speak for themselves.

Valley of the Shadow of Death, Roger Fenton, April 23, 1855

His sensibility and his eye did not betray him on the battlefield. Roger Fenton, a man of noble origins and the highest culture and refinement had been taken out of his comfort zone and put back into the worst place in the world, a camp filled with ghosts and death. A place that is difficult to describe without swallowing a few bitter pillows, a place that he interpreted in his own way, conveying the terror in the gentlest way possible, with respect and most likely with a broken heart.

Despite his short career and lack of fame, Roger Fenton was one of the most important pioneers of the art of light, loved by fans and heroically remembered by few.

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