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  • This is the first famous photograph of war.

  • It's calledThe Valley of the Shadow of Death,” and it was taken by British photographer

  • Roger Fenton in 1855.

  • During the first war to be photographed: the Crimean War.

  • A bloody and confusing three-year conflict fought between Russia and an alliance of the

  • Ottoman Empire, United Kingdom, France, and Sardinia.

  • The photo is part of a large collection taken by Fenton.

  • Who was sent to Crimea – a peninsula on the Black Sea in Eastern Europeto bring

  • the war to life through photography.

  • Most of the images depict camp life and portraits of soldiers.

  • But this one is unique.

  • Not because there's no one in it.

  • But because out of the hundreds of photos Fenton took while he was in Crimea...

  • it's the only one with a second version.

  • The two photos are almost identicalthey show the same devastated landscape,

  • from the same tripod position, but with one key difference.

  • The one that became famous shows cannonballs scattered on the road.

  • And in the second photo, they're gone.

  • Or, is this the second photo?

  • Did Fenton clear the cannonballs from the road?

  • Or did he put them there himself, as photo historians have alleged?

  • Which photo shows the truth?

  • ERROL MORRIS: The fact that there's a pair, by the way, is mysterious in and of itself.

  • This is Errol Morris,

  • Oscar-winning documentary director and collector ofunique taxidermy.

  • MORRIS: It's my eyeball collection.

  • Who went down a rabbit hole of research, a trip across the world, and painstaking photo

  • analysis, just to answer the question:

  • Which one was taken first?

  • MORRIS: That became the mystery of this pair of photographs.

  • MORRIS: It tortured me.

  • Morris' journey to find the answerwhich he chronicled in a three-part essay in the

  • New York Timesstarted with an accusation.

  • MORRIS: I first read about them in an essay by Susan Sontag.

  • Sontag, an American writer and filmmaker, argued that the famous photo was manipulated

  • by Fenton.

  • That he photographed the scene as he found it, thenoversaw the scattering of cannonballs

  • on the roadto stage the second image.

  • For simplicity, Morris refers to these photos asONandOFF.”

  • MORRIS: And so the argument is thatONis posed.

  • MORRIS: And he put them on the road in order to create a more dramatic image.

  • MORRIS: But there should be some kind of evidence independent of conjectures about Fenton's

  • psychology.

  • MORRIS: How from the photographs themselves and from contemporaneous accounts can I decide

  • which is which?

  • Fenton, in a letter to his wife, says that he took “2 good picturesin the Valley

  • of the Shadow of Death that day.

  • But there's no mention of which came first, or what happened in the span of time between

  • the two exposures.

  • Five interviews with photo historians and museum curators with expert knowledge on Fenton

  • left Morris with contradictory conclusions about which photo makes more sense to have

  • been taken first.

  • And whether or not Fenton wanted to add drama to the scene.

  • MORRIS: Well, maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. That doesn't tell me which photograph was

  • taken first.

  • MORRIS: Which comes first, “ONorOFF”, “OFForON?”

  • The answer would have to come from somewhere within the photos themselves.

  • MORRIS: Well, I tried everything.

  • MORRIS: At first I thought that the shadows

  • Maybe if he could better understand the positions of the shadows around objects in the photos,

  • Morris could determine which one was taken later in the day.

  • So, naturally, he flew to the Crimean peninsula.

  • And with the help of a local guide, trekked to the exact spot in the Valley of the Shadow

  • of Death where Fenton had stood 150 years earlier.

  • MORRIS: I actually got a cannonball, and placed the cannonball, photographed it at various

  • times of day.

  • MORRIS: Hoping the shadows would provide the ultimate clue as to before and after.

  • And what did you determine? I mean, you had the ball in your hand, you photographed it,

  • you knew which way he was facing. Did that help?

  • MORRIS: No, it didn't.

  • MORRIS: I could not reliably decide which came first.

  • There's just too many variables in the chemical processes required to take photos back then

  • to make a reliable guess about what the lighting conditions were.

  • MORRIS: Going to the Crimea, getting a cannonball, finding the actual place in which these photographs

  • were taken.

  • MORRIS: Still no definitive answer.

  • Morris was right about one thing from the beginning though: the solution to which of

  • these photos was taken first is in the photographs themselves.

  • He was just looking in the wrong place.

  • Obsessing over the cannonballs made sense, but the solution isn't here.

  • It's here. A friend of Morris's spotted it.

  • These rocks moved, and that revealed something about what happened in the time between the

  • two photos being taken.

  • MORRIS: If people are walking in this scene, gravity is going to pull them from a higher

  • elevation to a lower elevation.

  • MORRIS: And by observing the motion of these rocks. We can decide which came first.

  • These rocks determined that ONthe one with the cannonballs in the roadwas,

  • in fact, taken second.

  • MORRIS: Without even looking at the cannonballs. How irritating!

  • The photo we now know to be taken second was displayed in London in 1855, along with Fenton's

  • other photographs of the war.

  • Press reviews of the exhibit celebrated the new medium of photography, and praised its

  • accuracy in documenting evidence.

  • They singled out The Valley of the Shadow of Death as a must-see.

  • One reviewer said the photo, which isliterally covered with projectilesshowed withterrible

  • distinctnesswhat British soldiers haddared and encountered.”

  • MORRIS: The relationship between a photograph and reality is complicated.

  • MORRIS: Complicated at best.

  • After months of investigation, interviews, and dead ends, Morris definitively figured

  • out the order of these photos.

  • OFFcomes beforeON.”

  • But ultimately, we can't really know why these cannonballs were put on this road.

  • Or even know for sure if Fenton is the one who moved them.

  • There are accounts of British soldiers picking up cannonballs to fire back at the Russians,

  • so maybe that's what was happening here.

  • All we know from the two photos, though, is that somebody moved them, for some reason.

  • MORRIS: Every photograph is essentially a mystery.

  • MORRIS: And it's a mystery that asks us to figure it out.

  • Someone walked through this scene.

  • They knocked these rocks downhill as they carried cannonballs to the road.

  • And seeing that brings us a little closer to one afternoon in 1855 in the Valley of

  • the Shadow of Death.

  • Even though these two photos are the only nearly-identical pair in Fenton's Crimea

  • collection, there's another shot he attempted multiple times.

  • It's a self portraitdressed in a Zouave Uniform.

  • The Zouaves were a multinational infantry regiment fighting for the French.

  • And they were among the groups of soldiers that Fenton photographed in Crimea.

  • They originated mostly in Algeria, but also came from other parts of North Africa that

  • were under French colonial rule.

  • Their uniforms were recognizable for their baggy pants and their head coverings, called

  • chéchias.

  • Fenton photographed himself several times dressed in a Zouave uniform he was given

  • and misleadingly captioned it “a zouavewithout context.

  • For the record, these are actual Zouaves.

  • Also, if you want to read Errol Morris's full essay onThe Valley of the Shadow

  • of Death,” I linked that in the description.

  • That essay was a huge inspiration when I was first figuring out what Darkroom would look

  • like as a series, so it's really exciting to get to break down these two photos for

  • an episode. And this is the last one of season two.

  • Go check out some of the older ones in the playlist if you haven't seen those, and

  • as always, thanks for watching.

This is the first famous photograph of war.

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B1 morris photo photographed crimea valley shadow

Was this famous war photo staged? feat. Errol Morris

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/18
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