Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Valley of Death

Roger Fenton, The valley of the shadow of death (1855). Dirt road in ravine scattered with cannonballs. 

This is one of the most famous photos of the Crimean War. During the Battle of Balaclava, The Charge of the Light Brigade was fought here. Across a desolate and featureless landscape, not a single figure can be found. The landscape is inhabited only by cannonballs, so plentiful that they first appear to be rocks, that stand in for the human casualties on the battlefield.

Roger Fenton wrote: 'in coming to a ravine called the valley of death, the sight passed all imagination: round shot and shell lay like a stream at the bottom of the hollow all the way down, you could not walk without treading upon them'.

Borrowing from the Twenty-third Psalm of the Bible, the Valley of Death was named by British soldiers who came under constant shelling there. Fenton traveled to the dangerous ravine twice, and on his second visit he made two exposures. Fenton wrote that he had intended to move in closer at the site. But danger forced him to retreat back up the road, where he created this image.


  1. Oh my! I had not caught sight of this photo prior to today. Amazing! At first I thought this cannon shot was, without doubt, rocks!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Came here by way of RadioLab :)

    1. There's a good chance this has been staged. Listen to this episode:


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