Orient Station: Roger Fenton and his work – lecture by Andrzej Zygmuntowicz
About Roger Fenton
Roger Fenton (1819-69) one of the most influential and important photographers of the mid-19th century, exhibiting more widely and prolifically than any other of the period. His landscape and architectural studies were highly regarded and often referred to by critics as points of reference to which all other photographers should aspire. Born at Crimble Hall, near Bury, Lancashire, he was the third son of John Fenton, banker, and MP for Rochdale. He attended University College, London, graduating with a BA in 1840, before going on to study law intermittently for the remainder of the decade. He was called to the Bar in 1851. Despite this formal education, Fenton’s real ambition was to become an artist and using an inheritance from his grandfather he was able to train in both Paris and London, submitting three studies to the Royal Academy between 1848 and 1851. This training and experience distinguished Fenton’s career as a photographer and set him apart from many of his contemporaries. During this period photography emerged from infancy into precocious adolescence, full of hope, ambition and ideals, with Fenton playing a crucial role in determining its character. He was able to do this in two ways: firstly, through his active involvement with the Photographic Society in London; and, secondly, through the example of his own work that was widely exhibited throughout Britain and Europe. Unlike his contemporaries, Fenton never felt constrained to stick to one distinct photographic genre. Instead, he moved freely from portraiture, narrative tableaux, documentary sequences, landscape and topographical studies, and elaborate still-life studies made in his studio. Commercially his work occupied the top end of the market where it was widely sold by leading printsellers, most notably by Thomas Agnew & Sons, of Manchester and London, the firm that underwrote his expedition to photograph the Crimean War in 1855. Despite working in a number of genres, Fenton remained consistent in his love of the British landscape and the history it unfolded. Each summer he photographed in locations revered for their ruined abbeys, cathedrals, castles, romantic associations and literary connotations. These are now considered to be among the finest architectural and topographical studies of the 19th century. In October 1862 he announced his complete retirement from photography and had his apparatus and the entire stock of over 1,000 large-format negatives auctioned. With this decisive act, he closed a remarkable and influential photographic career.
Crimean War Photographs by Roger Fenton
For Roger Fenton, undertaking a photographic trip to the Crimea posed a number of practical and logistical problems, especially in 1854 when the physical requirements of the wet collodion process meant that every negative had to be carefully prepared on the spot. Working the process was a complex and painstaking business that required manual dexterity and a comprehensive understanding of photographic chemistry. In common with other photographers of the period Fenton used a mobile darkroom whenever he worked outdoors, and for his expedition to the Crimea, he decided to take a carriage that had begun life in the service of a wine merchant. It was a substantial vehicle and by the time he had converted it into his “Photographic Van” it contained everything needed to prepare and process negatives in the field. The sides were given windows of yellow glass fitted with shutters and into the roof he built a pair of cisterns to supply both distilled and ordinary water. At the far, there was a bench to hold the baths and trays used to sensitise and develop negatives. Elsewhere, every inch of space was taken up with racks and frames designed to secure the contents of the darkroom in place. There was even a small bed that folded out from under the bench, just like a modern camper van.
The photographic campaign was underwritten, at least in part, by Thomas Agnew & Sons, a leading firm of publishers and printsellers based in Manchester, and according to their subsequent advertising the venture was made “Under the Especial Patronage of Her Most Gracious Majesty and with the Sanction of the Commanders-in-Chief”. Doubtless, this was the case, but of far greater significance to Fenton were the personal letters of introduction from Prince Albert which he used to establish his credentials with the British commanders and chiefs of staff in the Crimea. Fenton must have known that he would be facing all manner of difficulties and danger when he arrived in the Crimea and to help with the chores and routines of photographing in the field he was accompanied by his assistant, Marcus Sparling, one-time soldier and photographer in his right, and a lad whom we only know as William. When they gathered together on Blackwall pier, London, on 20 February 1855 to begin their voyage they had with them 700 glass plates, five cameras and lenses, several chests of chemicals, printing frames, gutta percha baths and trays, boxes of preserved meats, wine, and biscuits, the harness for three horses, and a tent, all of which was securely packed into thirty-six large cases.
Andrzej Zygmuntowicz – President of the Artistic Council of the Association of Polish Art Photographers, a lecturer at the University of Warsaw and the Academy of Fine Arts. Since 1973, he has been presenting his work at individual, group and collective exhibitions – the main themes are documentary and nudes. At the same time, he has been publishing commercial photography in books, commercial campaigns and the press. Since 1989 he has been involved in photography education – first, he lectured at the Higher School of Photography of the Association of Polish Art Photographers since 1998 in Collegium Civitas and since 2005 at the Journalism Faulty at the University of Warsaw. Zygmuntowicz is an active organiser of photography events. His career began in the Warsaw Photography Association (he was the chairmen from 1979-85), he acted as the chairman of the Association of Polish Art Photographers between 1991-94 and from 1992-2003 he headed the Polish Press Photography Contest Foundation. Since 2005, he has been chairing the Artistic Council of the Association of Polish Art Photographers. He’s also busy presenting a poetic take on photography – he publishes texts in such magazines as „Pozytyw” „Fotografia” , ‚PDF”, exhibition catalogues and photography albums.
The presentation of the project and lecture by Andrzej Zygmuntowicz: 5 July 2017 – 17:00 – Próba Cafe, Grodzka 5a