The obsessive journey to answer one question: Which of these photos was taken first?
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Roger Fenton’s 1855 photo “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” is the first famous photograph of war, depicting a barren road littered with cannonballs fired during the Crimean War. But there’s a second photo of the same road with no cannonballs, which has led photo historians, and, notably, American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag, to claim that the famed photo is staged. Meaning, the photo with no cannonballs was taken first, and the photo with cannonballs was arranged and taken second.
American documentary film director Errol Morris went down a rabbit hole of interviews and photo analysis to determine if that order of the photos – with cannonballs “OFF” the road first, then “ON” – is accurate, based solely on what’s present in the photographs themselves.
Errol Morris’ New York Times essay, “Which Came First?”
Part one: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg-part-one/
Part two: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com//2007/10/04/which-came-first-part-two/
Part three: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/23/which-came-first-part-three-can-george-lionel-and-marmaduke-help-us-order-the-fenton-photographs/
Fenton Crimean War Photographs at Library of Congress:
Darkroom is a history and photography series that anchors each episode around a single image. Analyzing what the photo shows (or doesn’t show) provides context that helps unravel a wider story. Watch previous episodes here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJ8cMiYb3G5ce8J4P5j5qOEtYR94Z3DQs
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