The Fenton photographs

During the Crimean War a photographer named Roger Fenton took this astounding photograph of a scene which had faced heavy cannon bombardment by enemy forces for three hours:

But though this is the famous photo of the scene, he also took another which doesn't show the cannon balls on the road itself:


Recently there was a debate about whether the photo with no cannon balls, OFF, was staged, or whether it was simply a case of Fenton having to clear the road after having taken the battle scene, ON, so that their party could get by. It was thought that the debate was impossible to resolve.

A blink comparison of the two photos, however, makes it clear that OFF came before ON, and that therefore the scene was almost certainly staged. The rocks in the photo move down slope between OFF and ON, and have clear trails behind them where they've rolled. The lines cannot be shadows because no other stone or cannon ball has such lines behind it.

It also doesn't make much sense to take a photo of a scene you've just cleared, but it does make sense to take a photo of a battle scene and then decide that it needs a little bit of journalistic elaboration.

This is used as an example of how the media corrupt truth, and how the whole idea of media fakery started. But tales from the battlefield probably started long before Fenton artistically improved, or forged depending on how you look at it, this scene. There may also have been cannon balls on the road which were cleared before he arrived, which would just mean that he was trying to accurately reconstruct the scene.

Thanks to Morbus Iff for debate and for finding the good quality photos, and to Adam Wendt for discussion. The good quality photos were restored by Dennis Purcell.

Sean B. Palmer