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James Robertson (1813–1888)
Bombproof Magazine
No 46 from an album on the Crimean War
Russian Empire, Crimean Peninsula, 1855
Salt print, mounted on cardboard, 22,3 x 29,2 cm
Signed „Robertson” in ink in the image lower right, titled and numbered in pencil on the mount

The Russian-Turkish Crimean War (1853–1856) had its origin in religious conflicts over the protection of orthodox Christians in Jerusalem in the Osman Empire. The Catholic French and the Protestant British were allying with the Turks, to avoid Russian predominance in Europe. The decisive war conflicts were fought in 1854/55 on the Crimean peninsula at the Black Sea. The Allied forces had occupied the stronghold Sevastopol for a year and took it in 1855.

Especially through the reports published in British newspapers, this static warfare became notorious for its bad logistics as well as the catastrophic medical care for the troops. This is the context in which the images of Robert Fenton (February–June 1855) have to be seen, trying to implicitly rebut these allegations by showing many portraits of the militia and genre depictions (picnic-war). His written records are evidence for the adverse circumstances war photographers of the Collodion era had to deal with.

The decisive phase of the storm on and fall of Sevastopol was documented by James Robertson and Felice Beato. Robertson was a British engraver, who had been working for the Osman coin in Constantinople. There he also opened his photo studio in 1850. His depictions of monuments in Greece, Egypt and Palestine were internationally published and exhibited, but his images of the Krim war remained his most prestigious work.

According to the inscription on it, the present image shows a „bombproof magazine”. A labyrinthine system of trenches can be seen, marked by the specific basket cylinders used for the fortification of earthen walls, on the horizon an army tent. It is a known fact that Robertson photographed the occupied Russian positions in Sevastopol. It can be assumed that these are the systems of trenches, batteries and dugouts that the Russian engineer officer and later general Eduard I. Totleben had commissioned for the fortification of Sevastopol. Bomb proofing was very important during this war, as much large ordnance was used, bomb cannonry was used for the first time for defence against ships.

Marie Röbl, © WestLicht

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