Every Crimean War enthusiast knows that a chap named Roger Fenton kind of went berserk taking photos of the British, Turkish and French troops stationed outside Sebastopol between late 1854 and 1855. There are enough images of the allied armies and generals to fill several large coffee table books. But though this war was the first to be properly covered by the “Media”, shall we say, there is a large chunk missing from the coverage: The Russians. So I went on an expedition and dug up some, it wasn’t an easy mission and I very nearly didn’t make it out alive, what between the Cossacks and that low battery light blinking every now and then it could have gone either way.Seriously though the Crimean War has been so monopolised by the allied powers that sometimes you forget that this is one of those wars were there is no reason, apart from national prejudice, to look at things from the Russian side, so here take a look.
Left to Right Front: Afanasiy Eliseev 27th Volynian Foot (14th Division), Petr Koshka 30th Naval equipage, Fedor Zaika 30th Naval Equipage. Left to right back: Akseniy Rybakov 30th Naval Equipage, Ivan Dimchenko 30th Naval Equipage.
Early photographs are windows to the past. As with all photos they show reality, yet looking at a picture of a soldier or family from 150 years ago, it is not a reality we can recognise. This is especially so when it comes to pictures of war. When we look at old battle paintings, there’s not allot there we can connect to. Sure on some level you get it, pain, heroism, glory. The paradox is that it is much easier to comprehend the emotions of a battle painting than the reality of it, that row of men marching into a hail of gunfire wearing colourful uniforms. It’s pretty and intriguing but it doesn’t make much sense. It is much easier to understand a more commercial painting, were the actual subject can usually be identified and people strive to read more into it, than something that is so frankly alien as an old fashioned battle. You would think therefore that a photograph, no matter how blurred, no matter how grainy, would open up a door and give you something more to connect to. And there is definitely more humanity in those photographs that Rodger Fenton took when he came to the Crimea in 1855. Yet though we can see the faces behind the painted and written legend, and we can also see the strain and tiredness in an expression that has not changed since photography broke the barrier of imagination, there is something in the settings of those first war photos that remains mysterious. It’s something in the carriage, that suspicious look as they stare down the lens at this thing that can take their image, that shows how much time has passed, how far we are actually separated from our history. Without photographs the oldest story from our past might just as well be the day before yesterday. All at once a broken and clear window that we look through hoping to see something we cannot find.
Anyyyyyway. Hope you enjoyed the pictures. If you require any info about them please feel free to contact me and I’ll see you again for another Adventure in Historyland. Dasvidaniya.
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