Fenton, Roger. Valley of The Shadow of Death. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Back in July NEWSgrist reblogged the first installment of Errol Morris's exceptional blog/column, "Zoom", over at the New York Times. Here is an interesting post from Gallery Hopper regarding some more recent installments; especially interesting is the Kottke post, which he cites -- here's an excerpt:
Errol Morris has posted the third and final installment of his quest to find out which of two Roger Fenton photographs taken during the Crimean War came first. It is as excellent (and lengthy) as the first and second parts. Morris asks "How can the real world be recovered from the simulacrum?" and arrives at a compelling answer (which I won't give away here) via sun-maps, shadow experts, The Wisconsin Death-Trip Effect, and ultimately, the Dust-Plunging-Straight-Down Test.
It is insane, but I would like to make the claim that the meaning of photography is contained in these two images. By thinking about the Fenton photographs we are essentially thinking about some of the most vexing issues in photography -- about posing, about the intentions of the photographer, about the nature of photographic evidence -- about the relationship between photographs and reality.
via Gallery Hopper:
By now, you have undoubtedly seen Errol Morris's completely amazing series of "blog" posts over at the NY Times in which he attempts to set the record straight about whether Roger Fenton "faked" his famous photo "The Valley of the Shadow of Death." Exhaustive to create and exhaustive to read, but satisfying in both regards, I'm sure. (I put "blog" in scare-quotes because what Morris has been doing stretches the admittedly blurry definition of a blog to its outermost limits.) If you have not, please do.
The series is a monument to dedication, obsession, synthesis, attention to detail, detective work and a refusal to take the assertions of others at face value. Some have, however, pointed out the somewhat unpleasant implications of this exercise in glorifying trivia.
If so much energy was put into the discovery of that one small fact, how are we actually supposed to learn anything truthful about larger and more significant events like the Iraq War or global warming.
This sort of realization always occurs to me when I read a news article about something I actually know about, particularly if it's something not important enough to warrant a dedicated reporter who works with the subject day in and day out. Invariably, the treatment is superficial and erroneous in multiple dimensions. I'm always left to wonder "if they can't get something this simple right, what about political issue x?"
Slate's analysis seems to miss the larger point of the exercise and focuses in on whether it matters whether Fenton moved some cannon balls to improve the mise en scene.
One of the interesting but unintentional payoffs of this series is that a Google search for it will unearth some rather interesting blogs that have linked to the series.