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Roger Fenton (1819-1869)

Biography of British pioneering photographer Roger Fenton (1819-1869)

Roger Fenton was a pioneering British photographer who was born on 28th March 1819 near Rochdale in Lancashire. Fenton went up to Oxford University in 1838 and graduated in 1840. The following year he began to study law, but did not qualify as a solicitor until 1847.

In 1851, Roger Fenton visited the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park and was hugely impressed by the photography in the exhibition. It was this that sparked his interest in photography and made him take this path.

By the following year, Fenton had photographs exhibited in England and he also travelled with his photography. He was becoming known for his photographs of views and architecture around the country.

In 1853, Fenton established the Photographic Society as founder and first secretary. The Photographic Society later became the Royal Photographic Society under the patronage of Prince Albert.

It was this link that probably spurred Fenton to take on the job of recording events from the Crimean War and in 1855, he set sail aboard HMS Hecla to do just that. Fenton spent the period between March 1885 and June 1855 in the Crimea as the official campaign photographer. He was limited as to what he could photograph because (a) the processes of the day did not allow him to photograph moving objects and (b) because his remit was to glamorise the war and counteract growing criticism of the war, he could not capture battles or explosions. Instead, he concentrated on people and landscapes.

Fenton had to take a huge amount of equipment on his journey, which included five cameras and 700 glass plates, plus all his bottles of chemicals and his own food supply. He stayed in the warzone for four months, during which time he managed to contract cholera, break a few ribs and nearly die from inhalation from his developing chemicals. Despite this, Fenton managed to produce many glass negatives from the battle zone, including portraits and landscapes that give an amazing insight into the Crimean War.

On returning to England, Fenton continued photographing portraits for the Royal Family and scenes and architecture from around England.

In 1862, Fenton stopped all his photography and sold his equipment and returned to his law profession, but sadly it was only seven years after this that he died on 2nd August 1869 at the age of 50.

Even in such a short space of time, some ten years of photography in total, Fenton made a huge contribution to photography and he was a key pioneer to the art.

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Roger Fenton (1819-1869) Related Lots

Lot FS17/380

Lot FS17/380: Colonel Edmund Gilling Hallewell [1822-1869] - Colonel Edmund Gilling Hallewell's Photographic Album

Colonel Edmund Gilling Hallewell [1822-1869] - Colonel Edmund Gilling Hallewell's Photographic Album. A mixed photographic album of the 1850s and 1860s, elephant folio, lacking front board and some leaves.

Estimate: £4,000 - £6,000
Realised: £9,400