Fotografii de Carol Szathmari din războiul Crimeii în colecţii americane şi britanice / Photographs from the Crimean war by Carol Szathmari in American and British collections
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|Until the identity of the American daguerreotypist of the
American-Mexican War of 1846-1847 is known. Carol Szathmari (1812-1887) must be considered the world's first combat photographer.
In the first year of the Russian-Turkish War, later known as the Crimean War (1853-1856), Szathmari decided to take his camera to the battlefield. Using a wagon specially equipped with a dark room for
processing the glass plates with wet collodion, he went to Danube's banks and various other places to document the war. In April 1854 his van
became a target for the Turkish artillery from Oltenitza, who thought it belonged to a Russian spy. It was fortunate for the artist that the gunners
were not accurate enough to hit him .
Besides landscapes, fortifications and battlefields , he
photographed various troops, both Turkish and Russian, and their commanding officers. He exhibited his photos, bound in an album, at the
Paris World Exposition of 1855. Because Szathmari's were the first images of the war, prior to Roger Fenton's large collection of photographs taken
almost a year later, his album was much praised and he was presented with many awards. He eventually offered his work to Queen Victoria, to Emperors Napoleon III and Franz Josef I and to other royalty of Europe.
The album's contents is known only from descriptions of the French reviewer, Ernest Lacan, in his brochure Esquisses photographiques à propos de l'Exposition Universelle et de la Guerre d'Orient (Paris 1856).
Unfortunately, none of the albums survived: the one offered to the French Emperor burned in the Tuilleries Palace during the Commune of 1871; Queen Victoria's copy also burned in 1912 during a fire which ravaged Windsor Castle; those in Austria and Germany disappeared during W.W. I
and I I . The copies which might have been stored in the artist's studio vanished in 1944 when Bucharest was bombed and Szathmari's house, with all its treasured collection, was distroyed. At the Library of the Romanian Academy in Bucharest there are a
few photos which might have belonged to the album. They are as follows: a
detail of Turkish cavalry, a Turkish camp of Sibley tents, a guard house on
the border of the Danube, and an elderly bashibouzouk along with his gypsy
girlfriend, comfortably seated on a tattered carpet. The latter one was
published in the French magazine "Le Monde Illustré" of October 24, 1857.
Three portraits of Russian generals and three others of high ranking Austrian
officers may be added to the list. None of them is bound on cardboard or has
any caption. The collection of Szathmari's glass plates which is stored at the
same library might offer a surprise in that they were never copied since the
1930's when they were acquired from the artist's descendents.
Recently I had the opportunity to discover abroad some photos
which certainly belong to the lost album. At the International Museum of
Photography at George Eastman House, in Rochester, New York, there are
three pictures by Szathmari from that period. They are: "The Russian
lancers' encampment in Craiova", "The Bombardment of Silistra" and the
p o r t r a i t of Lieutenant General Soimonoff, commander of the 104th
Russian Division, k i l l ed in the battle of Inkermann. A l l of them are bound
on cardboard, surrounded by a lithographed ornament and the French
captions are written in black i n k by the author's hand. Their dimension is
15.3 x 21,1 cm. and 25,2 x 18,3 cm. respectively.
Another eleven pictures by Szathmari were brought to my
a t t e n t i o n w h i l e c o - o p e r a t i n g w i t h a B r i t i s h TV team p r o d u c i n g a
documentary movie about the Crimean War. With respect to this I am
grateful to Ms. Teresa Cherfas from the Barraclough Carey Productions
Ltd. in London who provided me photocopies of the mentioned images
from the Royal Archives at Windsor.
The eleven plates which have the same size and decoration as
the photographs in Rochester, New York, are part of the album possessed
by Queen Victoria, probably miraculously saved from fire. Two of them
represent Turkish artillerymen with their horse-drawn guns. One of the
pictures shows five Turkish officers on horseback. Five other pictures
show a group of handsome Turkish infantrymen posing in various
attitudes in order to reveal all the details of their uniforms, weapons and
equipment. Some are in full dress, others in undress, summer or winter
uniforms. Three Ottoman officers proudly posed for another picture; all of
them wear gold braided tunics which show their ranks of captain, colonel
and major. The last two photos show a group of Cossacks and three
Russian volunteers in their distinctive uniforms.
All these newly discovered photographs are welcome additions
for the Romanian researcher enabling him to ascertain, once more, the
importance of Carol Szathmari's contribution as historian with a camera
to the documentation of the Crimean War in particular and to the history of photography in general.
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