Mystery Behind Famous “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” Photo Solved


One of the most famous war photographs of all time is Roger Fenton’s Valley of the Shadow of Death, a picture showing cannonballs strewn across a valley path during the Crimean War. It is also one of the earliest examples of battlefield photography and its impact in 1855 is hard to understate.

Photo by Vova Krasilnikov from Pexels.

That said, many people have questioned the authenticity of the photo from an organic standpoint; namely, were the famous cannonballs scattered through the shot actually there to start? Or were they placed there by Fenton or someone else to make a more dramatic picture?

This question is not only prompted by the unbelievable nature of the photograph itself but also the existence of another photo, nearly identical yet without the cannonballs.

Figuring out which one of these pictures was taken first might help solve the mystery as to whether Fenton’s famous photo was staged or not.

At least that’s the thinking behind a recent special by Vox featuring none other than Errol Morris.

In a fascinating forensic dive into photography, Morris describes their theories and the eventual result of their research.

And if you haven’t watched the video documentary, which you can do here, you might not want to read further.

Basically, the researchers discovered that the picture without the cannonballs was taken first thus giving a firm foundation to the theory that they were placed there by someone.

Again, if you haven’t watched it, you really should – click here to view it on YouTube.

Were you aware of the two photos of Roger Fenton’s Valley of the Shadow of Death? What is your opinion of the research’s outcome? Do you think photo fakery is more common than perhaps we believe? Let us know your thoughts on this in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other photography news we have here on Light Stalking at this link.


About Author

Kehl is our staff photography news writer since 2017 and has over a decade of experience in online media and publishing and you can get to know him better here and follow him on Insta.

I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of Fenton’s (and others’) Crimean War photos in Edinburgh last year, with both versions of the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” on display. Seen in context it was a reminder that in effect all photos from that era were posed, and carefully chosen for effect. Nothing new there! The more interesting question might be whether Fenton was reconstructing a scene that had been described to him or whether he just thought it would have more impact with the cannonballs on the road instead of just in the ditch.

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