Crimea, 1855
Murray W. Dunlap
U pon the discovery of the collodion, or wet-plate process, Roger Fenton set out to photograph the Crimean War. Despite the difficulty of having but a brief window to capture an image on the still wet glass plate, Fenton picked his way along the Black Sea and recorded the life and landscape of war.

Fenton was too weak of heart for the gore of battle scenes. But his Styrian assistant, Bella Karnstein, insisted upon an even greater aversion. If the sounds of fighting thumped in the distance, Bella would draw up his pale, thin lips and slip back toward the boat alone.

On a cold, mist cloaked afternoon, however, Fenton found himself near a skirmish at the Crimean point. He gaped at a clump of bodies next to the woods. Swallowing back bile rising in his throat, Fenton immersed the collodion plate in silver nitrate, Bella's duty if he were present, and inserted it into the camera. While allowing exposure time, Fenton noticed a figure dragging one of the bodies into the woods. He extracted the plate from the camera and placed it into a sulfate developing solution.

Back aboard his ship the following morning, Fenton lined up his prints in the sun, bright light he required for evaluation. The unmistakable image before him caused Fenton to cry out. Captured in black and white, he stared at Bella Karnstein dragging the body, fangs bared over pale, thin lips. Dark clouds inked out the sun and deep laughter rose from the hull.

First published: November 1999