Time - 100 Photographs - The Most Influential Images of All Time - USA (2019)

(Antfer) #1


hotography was scarcely 30 years old when
Roger Fenton, a well-born Englishman, landed on
the Crimean Peninsula with camera equipment and a
wagonload of darkroom supplies. He spent most of the
next four months documenting a dreadful war among
European powers, the war that gave the world Flor-
ence Nightingale and the Charge of the Light Brigade.
One day in 1855, in a sloping declivity near Se-
bastopol known as the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
among cannonballs scattered by the frequent Russian
artillery barrages that gave the valley its nickname,
Fenton spent the better part of two hours recording
two pictures of the scene.
These stark and ominous images are widely re-
garded as the first important war photography. But in
recent years they have been at the root of an intense
controversy. After taking the first exposure, Fenton
caused a number of cannonballs to be moved from the
hillside and placed in the road. Why he did this is not
The late critic Susan Sontag theorized that
Fenton was sensationalizing the scene by making the

road look more dangerous. Filmmaker Errol Morris,
among others, has taken a more forgiving view. Per-
haps Fenton was attempting to show the scene as it
was immediately after a barrage, before the road was
What difference does it make? The controversy
is a testament to the enduring power of a great photo-
graph. One might imagine that a photograph would
be the most ephemeral of documents. It is, after all,
only the record of light reflected in a fleeting moment.
But as this collection shows, the opposite is the case.
An influential photograph retains its power long af-
ter eyewitnesses are gone and written accounts have
been forgotten. Think of Joe Rosenthal’s frame of ser-
vicemen raising the flag over Iwo Jima, Alfred Eisen-
staedt’s snap of a sailor smooching a nurse in Times
Square, Nick Ut’s photo of a naked child fleeing a na-
palm attack in Vietnam.
From its earliest days, photography has served to
bring us in contact with unseen realities. As the New
Yor k Times editorialized after an exhibition of Alexan-
der Gardner’s unprecedented photographs of dead sol-


AFTERWORD by David Von Drehle

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