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Roger Fenton


Roger Fenton was a solicitor and son of a Lancashire mill-owner and banker.  He was born near Rochdale, Lancashire in 1819, and died in London in 1869.  He studied as a painter from about 1839, and became one of the most respected photographers of the 1850s.

Fenton takes up Photography

Fenton took up photography in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition in London.  He photographed Queen Victoria and her family, and took many photographs for the British Museum over several years.

He took many stereo photographs.

Fenton visited Russia in 1852 with his camera, and travelled to the Scottish Highlands the following year, stopping briefly in Edinburgh.  A series of prints  from the Scottish expedition were made, but these were never published.

However, he is probably best known for his 360 photographs of the Crimean War, taken in 1855.  These photographs were included in one of the early photographic exhibitions that went on tour throughout Britain in 1855-56.

 [Roger Fenton of Crimble Hall

Fenton and Photographic Societies

Roger Fenton was a founding member of the Calotype Club in London in the 1840s.  Later, following the inclusion of photographs in the Great Exhibition of 1851, Fenton and another 9 gentlemen formed a committee in 1852 with a view to  establishing a Photographic Society. 

He was the founder of The Photographic Society in London and its first Secretary (1853-56).  The society later became The Royal Photographic Society, which still thrives today.

Photographs in Exhibitions

Fenton was a regular contributor to many of the photographic exhibitions in Britain in the 1850s.  Almost all of his exhibits were listed in the catalogues as collodion A few were listed as wax paper albumen and photogalvanography.

In the exhibitions where he offered his photographs for sale, the price was usually between 3/- (three shillings) and 10/6 (ten shillings and sixpence - or half a guinea) each. 

However, the prices charged for his Crimean photographs in the touring exhibition of 1855-56 ranged from 1/1/0 (a guinea) for a single print to:

  -  21 for 60:  photos entitled Incidents of Camp Life or

  -  21 for 50:  photos entitled Scenery: Views of the Camps, &c.

  -  60:  The Complete Work with the descriptive Etchings as published.

[Photographs Exhibited in Britain 1839-1865]

Fenton's Photographs exhibited in Edinburgh

Roger Fenton exhibited his work in several of The Photographic Society of Scotland's Exhibitions, held in Edinburgh.   His entries were praised in the Press.

In the 1st PSS Exhibition, held in December 1856 his exhibits were 37 collodion and 1 albumen.  These included two collodion views of Edinburgh:

-  Edinburgh from Craigleith Quarry

-  Edinburgh from the South

In the 3rd PSS Exhibition, held in December 1858, his exhibits were 13 collodions, again including one entitled:

-  Edinburgh from Craigleith Quarry

Fenton gives up Photography

In 1862, just as photographs was becoming more affordable, with the carte-de-visite craze taking off, and many new photographers opening up for business, Fenton announced his decision to give up photography.

He made this announcement, and advertised an auction sale of his photographic equipment, and almost all of his photographs, in the Photographic Journal of 15 October 1862.

 [Roger Fenton of Crimble Hall]

Fenton's Letters Today

The Royal Photographic Society now has the world's largest collection of Fenton's photographs - over 700.  it also purchased, at auction in 1997, a book of 50 letters written by Roger Fenton and transcribed by his daughter, Annie Grace.

[The Photographic Journal:   September 1997,  p.281]

Fenton's Photographs Today

An 1856 salted paper print by Fenton, titled South Porch, Roslin Chapel, was sold at Christie's Auction on 30 April 1997 for 52,000 to an American buyer.  This was a British auction record.

[The Photographic Journal:   September 1997,  p.281]