Charles Langlois, Redoute Gervais, c. 1855, Albumen print from waxed paper negative. Lent by the Troob Family Foundation
The Crimean War, which claimed an estimated 650,000 lives between 1853 and 1856, was the first major conflict in which photography played a significant documentary role. Named after the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea, the war was fought by an alliance between Britain, France, Turkey, and Sardinia against Russia. Religious tensions between Catholic and Orthodox believers had spurred Russia’s Tsar Nicholas I to take advantage of a weakened Ottoman Empire and try to expand his influence into the eastern Mediterranean region.
Photography in the field posed many risks and challenges that required ingenuity and quick thinking. Other technological “firsts” from the Crimean War included explosive naval shells, railways, and telegraphs. These innovations revolutionized not just how war was waged but also how it was reported. With communication accelerated by mechanical means, the potential grew for people distant from the front lines to experience a more immediate sense of conflicts far away.