Page 69c2 Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
Go to Great Collections List
Use Internet
More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

Roger Fenton, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Robert Capa... James Mason!!!
Honouring a Landmark Figure in the World History of War Photography

Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO, RCR - 1875 -1923 - 8 - War Photographers' History

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure






They all used the camera primarily
as a way to make money.

James Mason used his camera
only to tell a story that had never been told before... and that he believed, needed telling...

Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO & his #2 Model A Kodak Folding Pocket Camera - 1900

Orig. photo (detail) - Image Size - 9 x 16 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON

Among the greats, in the pantheon of esteemed war photographers, Canadian Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO, stands tall as a standard setter for the entire corpus of war photography produced by men of equal talent and courage, during the middle of the 20th century.

His predecessors in this once, not dangerous art, were all civilians, doing it as a way of making income by selling pictures or picture books.

So, quite understandably, they all played it safe, going to photograph battlefields only two, three, or four days after the shooting stopped, and the enemy long gone. Not sharing the danger with frontline troops, they couldn't document things like bravery, courage, passion, or men facing death.

So for 50 years Fenton and his followers mostly showed soldiers camping or lolling about behind barricades, when nothing really dangerous was going on. Hey, we don't want our darkroom wagon shot up...

So inevitably they, all, tried to fake shots, to create the reality they did not really want to face personally - the need to gamble with your life to photograph men who were doing exactly that for the sake of their country. Which is what action war photography is supposed to be about.

Right from the beginning, they started dressing up scenes to make them look better than they were. Some dragged props with them - Brady and Gardner had studio rifles that kept showing up with different corpses - to tart up the scene for the audience, which of course, would never find out.

More than one created a scene that never was - Fenton with cannon balls, and other dragged corpses around. Gardner moved one body 70 yards, to a much better position. They all adjusted clothing and equipment of the dead, or twisted heads and limbs for dramatic effect - some were pretty stiff, so it took some doing - to guarantee a "better war picture."

In fact some of the really famous images - Fenton's "Valley of Death," Gardner's "Rebel Sharpshooter," are among the most famous fakes.

James basically said this won't do. We need to see the men at the front doing the fighting. To do that photographers have to face the same risks that soldiers do. This was a dramatic departure from past practice.

This part-time soldier - he was a banker by trade - broke the mold by doing exactly that, taking his camera, most importantly, his life, in his hands, to get the shots on the firing line that professional civilian photographers had failed to do in all the wars following the invention of the camera in the 1830s.

Much later, combat photographers in World War II, frequently, were to follow James' example. By then, the standard James established was a given. Combat photographers started dying doing their job, like Capa in 1954.

But before James Mason showed the way, in 1900, at 4 pm, on Bloody Sunday, at Paardeberg, no one had ever done combat photography before.

And his diary and letters make it clear that he almost paid with his own life - for taking one memorable and historic photograph, thereby introducing the dangerous art of combat photography to traditional war photography.

Postscript - And how did all these war photographers fare? Almost none ever made money from their war photos. They all died broke, alcoholic, or young.
For most, their fame was bestowed upon them after they died.

For our critical analysis of a fine book on 19th century war photography, Early War Photographs - 50 Years of War Photographs from the 19th Century by BBC Photo Researcher Pat Hodgson, in which she features 90 of the best...

Go to 19th Century War Photographs
Roger Fenton (1819-1869) - The Crimean War, 1853-1856

Fenton has been called the first war photographer.

He was a trained lawyer, but at first, preferred painting for exhibitions. He turned his attention to photography in 1852. (The camera had just been invented in the 1830s.)

When the Crimean War broke out in 1855 (Britain, France, and Turkey fought to prevent Russia from taking territory from the decaying Ottoman Empire and expand to the Mediterranean Sea) Fenton got a contract to take photos of the troops fighting in the Crimean Peninsula (it juts out into the Black Sea.)

He produced some 350 large format pictures of men in the theatre of war. These reflect his obligations to those responsible for sending him to the Crimea.

His job was to promote a war that was as unpopular on the home front as the current one Britons - and Canadians - are fighting in Afghanistan.

Fenton was also beholden to the British military for he needed their help to transport his large wagon and assistants to the Crimea. So he couldn't produce images which might offend. Or he would get no more access and lose his future income.

So Fenton photographed lots of flattering pictures of officers.

"If I refuse to take them I get no facilities for conveying my van from one locality to another," he groused.

But no bodies, no wounded, or maimed soldiers.

Fenton's photographs portrayed war as a pageant, a game of cricket, nice and clean, and quite palatable, with lots of charming and important young officers posing for him.

GAGGGMM we say... The God Awful Giggle Gals and Guys in the Mainstream Media

In the Footsteps of Faking Like Fenton - Zain, Christie, Rosie, Kyra, Sheila... for their corporate bosses.

Note all have Canadian connections, just proving that Canadian GAGGGs will do whatever their bosses want, no matter how inappropriate it might be... Wonder what else they fake...?

Note how in 2013, the fakery - now in video and news - continues big time, with world leaders like CNN at the front of the pack.

Note how dangerous it is for Zain Verjee, we are given to believe, right in the midst of the Kenya mall terrorist activity - hence the bullet proof vest and steel helmet.

Then note how people even closer to the danger, like the guy in sunglasses watching CNN play the role, and numerous other people without protection in the background nonchalantly "hanging about,." including numerous women... One guy even leans, bored out of his tree, against the building. (After someone pointed out this nonsensical SNL parody, Zain removed her helmet after the first couple of reports. Alas! Too late to escape our speedy photographer.)

In the old days they used to send men like Fenton to do the propaganda work for the rich controlling classes, who wanted a war for business reasons that the vast majority of the population couldn't stomach.

They sent men because it was dangerous out there - Fenton writes about close encounters, though one suspects he probably inflated the danger to attract attention to his photos, just like modern war correspondents (like Christie Blatchford left and Rosie DiManno) - all are former ambulance chasers - who are notorious for hyping the danger just to sell papers, and attract a little personal notoriety for daring do. Both are fanatic promoters of anything careening off the right at a moment's notice, to the resounding approval of Canada's fascist fanatics.

(But hey, we admit it, these broads are tough - just look at their pictures...)

One is reminded, of course, of the dumb pictures of CNN's John Roberts left sporting his silly grin while reporting with a huge flak jacket and steel helmet, supposedly from the danger zone in Iraq. John does it because acting like a klutz for news bosses pays good money.

John like all journalists places a high premium on show business first. He's a Canadian, born and raised, latterly working in US television news. After the 9/11 attacks he quickly acquired US citizenship for business reasons. Talk about sincerity.

Then CNN sends one of their stable of GAGGGMM show girls, Kyra Phillips left to report from the Iraq danger zone. She's surrounded by US generals and soldiers wearing steel helmets, and flak jackets bulging with grenades and bristling with rifles. The army wants to portray danger. Trouble is...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Lt. Col. François Lessard
Orig. lithograph - Size - 30 x 40 cm
Found - Kingston, ON

François commanded 1,000 fighting men on the ground, more than any Canadian general since the Korean War.

When his men walked out to face the enemy, Colonel Lessard personally led them into danger, like other Boer War generals and colonels.

Remember, in 1900 four regiments totaling 4,000 Canadian fighting men fought in South Africa, far eclipsing the number of fighting men Canada has doing the shooting on the ground in Afghanistan.

And, in Afghanistan, only a few hundred ever get to fight.

And generals and colonels long ago stopped leading the men against the enemy. They spend most of their time pushing paper. Oh sometimes, for show business reasons, they ride in a tank, or armoured car, you know to keep up the morale of those who have to do it for real, all the time...

Unlike the Boer War, where everyone, from general on down, faced the dangerous enemy together, the Afghan War is totally a corporals and sergeants war. When a patrol is required - during which most of Canada's fatalities occur - it's the privates, corporals, sergeants, and WOs, who are sent out to face the enemy, alone, and die.

While the civil service generals, who take no risks at all, talk stupidly in the press, how proud the men and women are to die for Canada - read Canadian businessmen...

All totally reprehensible and unconscionable...

But Kyra is hatless, in blouse and jeans. The effect is ludicrous. Everyone knows she - and the generals - are miles, probably hundreds, from any danger. It reminds us that these gals are all in the entertainment field and are all show business. The costume department really ought to get their act together.

Kyra, you may recall, a year ago or so, was famously captured by her neck mike which she had forgotten to turn off before going into the bathroom, waxing super eloquent about her wonderful Jewish - it helps get work at CNN - husband. Now only a little later she's divorced him and dating Roberts... Talk about sincerity... They deserve each other...

Canada has another memorable entry in the insincere war correspondent follies, with the appearance of the considerably air brushed and slimmed down Sheila MacVicar left who was caught on tape reporting seriously from the streets of "war torn Lebanon" complete with a huge oversize steel helmet and bulky flak jacket.

We admit she looked cute, peering through all the hardware... So it worked. (We should have been suspicious - she couldn't hold back her little smile, as she held forth, still a ripple effect left over from the howls of laughter among the crew as they duded her up, pre-camera.)

Then, suddenly, a woman in a hejab, leading a small child by the hand, nonchalantly, and leisurely, walked across the frame behind her... Hey, what is this? Some danger zone... Hollywood...

The cameraman must have been asleep... He should have done a retake. He probably couldn't wait to get her out of her silly duds, ahem... Silliness happens when you're trying to make your war correspondent...

These days, in Canada, they send the girls, because there's nothing they won't say or do for their boss. And men just wouldn't do that...

Ah, don't worry, it's not dangerous, or they wouldn't be sent. After all most Canadian servicemen never come out from behind the wire at Kandahar where they remain safe for their whole tour. The only ones who get killed by the Taliban are among the few hundred who, sometimes, go out into the countryside.

It is also dangerous behind the wire, where Canadians have become victims of: suicides from the agony of being forced into a war they didn't want to fight, from murder, or from tomfoolery with guns by men who would like to draw on a Taliban but can't so pick a nearby hapless Canadian for gun play in the TV room...

The vast majority of Canadians are upset that their army is in Afghanistan.

They shouldn't really worry. It is a fact - Canadians seem unaware - that during the Boer War lowly Canadian lieutenant-colonels (Otter, Steele, Lessard, Evans, etc.) each commanded more actual fighting troops on the ground in South Africa, than any Canadian general has led in Afghanistan in the past seven years.

(We don't count General Hillier's much bragged about, short-term, routine rotational board room command position over the NATO forces in Afghanistan, as, at all, equivalent to the dangerous "on the ground" battlefield exposure of the Canadian Boer War commanders. Col. Otter sustained real battlefield wounds; Gen. Hillier, at best, indigestion from too many Tim Horton's "Timbits.")

That's because the Canadian army there is merely being used as a political show army, not a strategic or tactical weapon of any kind, whose sole job is to "show" our American business friends that Canada will enthusiastically join their war against the Muslims abroad, any time, any place, and ramp up persecution at home (Arar, Khadr, Abdelrazik, Suaad Hagi Mohamud, etc.) to boot.

And that's certainly worth sacrificing a few young Canadian lives - OK, OK, 127 131 and counting...

Go to Great Victorian Generals & Colonels

Roger's assistant in the van that housed his photographic factory.

Technology can be partly blamed for Roger's static photography. To operate he needed to take this wagon which housed his huge cameras, masses of glass plates, and chemicals for processing his images.

Needless to say battle fronts, cavalry, artillery, and marching men, all moved faster than Roger could pack up and go from place to place.

Forty-five years later, William Dickson, who took the first moving pictures of war (the Boer War), had a similar wagon, and was always late packing up and invariably trailed far behind the armies he was supposed to film. This came in handy at Spion Kop, in January 1900, when the British Army fell back after a devastating defeat, and Dickson got some of his best images of men at war - the British Army ignominiously in full retreat.

Also images took time to register on the chemicals so subjects had to hold still. Which could get you shot near the firing line.

Inevitably, Roger was always where the battle wasn't. So he focused on things that stayed still - like officers posing in camp, tents that were pegged down, or other scenics with hills that stayed put.

So don't look to him for combat photographs, though Roger complained his van was a target for Russian artillery.

Mostly wishful thinking, coming from a guilty conscience, because Roger was the only man in the Crimea who wasn't paid to get shot at. It must have made him feel somewhat cowardly, while officers, and Tommies, where routinely in the line of fire.

Here General Brown sits with his staff far from the line of fire. Everyone holds very still so Roger can get a proper sharp exposure.

Below the closest Roger was inclined to get to the action, was showing the wounds that Col. Clarke's horse Sultan, of the Scots Greys, got at Balaclava.

Not really action photos, but perhaps a result-of-the-action photo.

So Fenton cannot be called the first combat photographer, because he didn't photograph battlefront action.

Still Roger tried to give it his best shot, with the photos of the cannon balls below in his most famous photograph which he called Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Roger should have taken just one picture that made it appear he was on the battlefield just after the cannonading stopped. In fact at the time he claimed the road was too dangerous to admit safe passage for anyone. Sounds like good promotional hype to claim something like combat status for a photo that was really landscape photography. No man or beast is anywhere visible. But we know just behind the photographer stands Roger's huge darkroom wagon.

Unfortunately he took two pictures, which merely affirmed that the first war photographer was also the first faker of war photographs, initiating a practice followed even by famous war photogs like Robert Capa a century later.

One Fenton image has cannon balls on the road - as they would have been as a result of a random bombardment. Roger would say he happened on the scene just after the cannon balls stopped rolling... Wow what a daredevil.

Not so fast... Roger - like Robert Capa in 1936 - made the mistake of having dupes of the same image lying around. These have no cannon balls on the road. So clearly someone had removed them, Roger's second picture was taken long after the action, when road crews could safely clear the way again for wagon transport. So Roger is not so brave after all...

So which was shot first? People have been guessing for years.

But it's rather easy to figure out.

Below Roger liked to put on fake clothes too, here posing in an exotic French Zouave uniform. We could not find one of him in his French Maid's outfit... So Roger has a history of fakery... Besides, he was a lawyer, you know, the ones who tell all their defendants to say they're REALLY sorry before sentencing.

Roger's cannon ball images were not taken days apart - that is, not just after the battle, and then again, days later when the clean-up began. The camera is clearly locked down to the exact same image framing between photos.

So Roger took both images moments apart. Well however long it took to scatter some cannon balls...

Now did Roger take the cannon balls off the road, or put them on? Which is the better picture? Which one is the fake? Actually we believe that BOTH could be...

Common sense tells you that British engineers cleared the road of interfering canon balls, soon after the action, so that artillery caissons. and cavalry units could swiftly pass by safely if a new attack was developing somewhere, without their horses breaking legs. They simply chucked the balls into the ditch which is why they're there like in windrows.

Days later, when all was quiet again - relatively speaking of course - in this sector, Roger, after a careful look about, showed up with his lumbering wagon. (In this Fenton set another standard followed by his successors for the next fifty years - show up on battlefields after the shooting had stopped. But make it look like the combat just ended.) Which brings us back to planting cannon balls...

He was no doubt bowled over by all the cannonballs - indicative of a horrific fight. Pity they were all cleared off the road days before.... Doesn't look like an authentic battlefield with the obvious cleanup.... Hmmhh...

before Fenton; below after Fenton.

Fake Premise - The premise for this whole exercise, was faulty. Experts set out to determine whether Roger was a faker or not, by trying to discover whether he came upon the cannon balls on the road, and was just a passive, but truthful, recorder of found history, untarnished by his conniving hands, or whether he put them there, and so was a faker..

Everyone took for granted that if you could determine which picture was taken first, and it turned out to be the ON photo, it would show Roger came upon the scene to find the cannon balls across the road. So he didn't plant them there; he was no faker. He could - unless Errol's cannon ball pickers happened by in the meantime, mostly be accused of removing cannon balls.

Not so.

As professional photographers there are a number of times we happened upon a scene, see no point in photographing it, until changes are made. We make them, then take the ON photo first.

Then someone gets a bright idea. "Hey just thought of something. We could really use a BEFORE shot after all. Lets put everything back the way it was and do it." And then we shoot the OFF shot - the way we originally found it - second, after cleaning up the ORIGINAL FAKE set-up.

The sequence in which a picture is shot does not indicate which is faked or when...

Double Faker - It could very well be that Roger first came upon the disappointingly sparse collection of cannon balls on the road, and was mostly bowled over by those windrows of them in the ditch, and decided to add to them to make them even more impressive. So he cleared the road and took the OFF picture. Then Marcus convinced him he should have taken the ON picture before after all. "Oh, why didn't you say that before, when we agreed it was not great? Well dammit, start carrying the balls back up... And I'll take the ON pic anyway."

We've done this more than once...

This totally fits all the known documentary evidence. But it makes Roger a double faker. Errol won't be happy because not even Roger's first picture is then REAL, but shows Roger's road clearing efforts to make the piles in the ditch more impressive.

And not even Errol can say it wasn't possible...

And to those who object, saying but there are more cannon balls in the foreground in the ON picture, we say, precisely. When Roger had taken cannon balls from the ditch to put on the road he saw that he lost the punch of the wind rows before. So he added cannon balls, not only on the road, but to the foreground in the ditch as well...

Roger was just an all around faker... sorry, Errol, we mean artist...

But we sympathize somewhat; Roger and Marcus may very well have had to carry those damn cannon balls on the road, three times - OFF, ON, and OFF again - and no one can say it didn't happen that way, not even Errol...

Fake Errol Morris - If you want to max out on these cannon balls, Google Errol Morris, New York Times, and Fenton. Errol believes this is the location of the famous photos.

Morris goes on a huge - 25,000 words worth, not Wordsworth - careening, exploratory examination of which picture Fenton shot first, cannon balls ON or cannon balls OFF?

He goes off on a wild tangent - when the New York Times funds you for three long essays, it pays... trying to use shadow analysis and on-site research to decide the proper sequence. It's all filler material when common sense - as we use here - should have said "Elementary, my dear Morris." But Errol is paid to be a long-winded essayist, not an economical critical thinker. Which is why he misspells US Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner's name constantly. But hey, he got a free trip to the Crimea...

Morris starts off by arguing other experts have no basis for saying that OFF came before ON - the common sense deduction. After miles of column space trying to decipher a false premise - which came first, the chicken or the egg? - his own photo analyst proves conclusively that OFF came before ON, just like the others said all along. Which really ends up proving nothing at all.

The ultimate proof had nothing to do with shadow analysis, or on the ground research, but it became noticeable, in blow ups of the two images, that numerous stones and small rocks in ON had ALL been displaced DOWNHILL from the positions they had in the OFF picture. (Documentary evidence says both images were shot less than an hour apart.)

Conclusion - Between the OFF picture, showing no cannonballs on the road, and the ON picture showing lots there, and taken only half an hour apart or so, someone kicked random stones in the foreground left, down the hill. Who could possibly do that in this desolate landscape, where neither man or beast is visible in any direction? Ah, but wait a minute. Fenton and his assistant are just behind the camera. The only conclusion is that it is they, who, in this tiny window of opportunity, stumbled up and down the hill kicking over stones. They were carrying heavy cannonballs from places outside the camera view in order to pepper the road with cannonballs for the ON picture. No other interpretation is possible.

The Morris hunt - in search of an answer for the wrong question - was bogus from the start. It doesn't matter a hoot which picture Roger took first, other than as an academic aside.

On the real question - did Fenton or someone else move those cannon balls OFF or ON to the road? Did the Russians or Fenton create the reality in Roger's photos? - Morris waffles around big time. He even suggests the cannon ball collectors may have come by in the half hour Fenton was setting up his camera...

The real answer - in spite of Morris' waffling - is that, unquestionably, Fenton put those cannon balls ON the road. Their wonderful symmetrical placement betrays the hand of the photographer not a Russian cannoneer. He also took the cannon balls OFF the road; he did both. Read on...

The Russians had rained down the cannon balls originally, all over the place. Road clearing crews had come along next and dumped the ones impeding the traffic into heaps in the ditch. Roger and Marcus, his trusty assistant, had then come along, and then scattered some of them - artistically - back on the road to get a better picture - that is one that, to Roger, better represented the historical moment he was trying to capture.

To true documentary photographers Roger created a fake moment. Similar to a photographer slapping a child in Darfur, to make her cry, so her tears in a photo better represent the reality that she is starving to death. Hoping this will get him/her a cover on National Geographic...

Roger thought he could capture his moment best by faking the photo, not in the darkroom, but on the site. Which he certainly did. Morris likes to see Roger as an artist, not a faker in this regard.

The Third Photo - Morris doesn't mention this; in fact Roger never took it. But we already know what would be in it had he done so, taking it just before he left in his wagon.

It would have shown the cannon balls - again - definitely, cleared off the road. Roger wouldn't have dared to leave his photographic props on the roadway. Every British, French, Turkish, and Sardinian driver of artillery caissons, or supply wagons, every allied cavalry officer, would have torn a strip off that "damn photographer" for impeding the ease of movement of the allied forces. And that would have been the end of Roger's free transport provided by the military. He would have been persona non grata in the Crimea from then on... Which is where we - and Roger - came in, with the road clear of those damn cannon balls...

The position of the cannonballs is also highly suspicious.

They are not at all indicative of a random bombardment; they show, instead, a deliberate placement along the tracks along the roadway.

No odd cannonballs along the margins as you would expect.

And have the Russians been bombarding even more since the first photo was taken?

Clearly Roger and his assistant thought there weren't enough cannonballs in the picture so they brought in extra ones from other parts of the area to boost the number in the foreground.

So while Roger can probably lay fair claim to being the first war photographer, he is certainly the first known to fake a war photograph.

He would start this dishonourable tradition which continues to this day.

Some artsy photographers might say he is being artistically creative.

Well it's not the truth of what was there; it was the truth he wished were there. Will the real Eliot Spitzer please stand up...

In spite of the fakery the Crimean photos did not sell well.

Roger only photographed for 11 years, before returning to practice law in 1861. His total print output is just over 600 images.

He died at 49. Later generations accorded him an honoured place in the history of war photography.

Mathew Brady (1822-1896) - the American Civil War, 1861-1865

As a young man Brady developed his interest in photography, doing mostly portraits of people in Washington, DC.

When the American Civil War started in 1861, Mathew won a place in the history of war photography by bringing his photographic studio right on to the battlefield.

His friends tried to dissuade him. Said Brady, "I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go' and I went."

He got so close to the action he was almost captured at the First Battle of Bull Run. His photos sold well.

Thereafter Brady mostly stayed in Washington, rarely visiting battlefields.

He hired some 20 photographers, gave them each a van for a travelling darkroom, and told them to get pictures close to the action. Photos attributed to Brady were mostly the work of others in his employ.

In October 1862 he presented a graphic exhibition of photographs in his New York Gallery called "The Dead of Antietam" This was a first. Before the dead in photographs had always been staged by actors. They were as fake as Fenton's smoking battlefield of cannonballs.

After the war the public lost interest in his photographs. People who endured five years of butchery want to move on. Brady's fortunes declined .

Mathew had invested some $100,000 to create over 10,000 plates of the war, creating the most astonishing archive of the most bloody war America has ever fought in its history. "No one will ever know what I went through to secure those negatives. The world can never appreciate it. It changed the whole course of my life."

Brady had expected the government would buy his photos for historic purposes. The government refused and he went bankrupt. His last years were spent in poverty.

Brady has been called the first photo journalist, because he not only "showed" but "told" what was going on on the battlefields.

It was not nice, like Fenton had led everyone to believe.

In fact it was awful. God awful...

So Brady was a judgmental photographer.

But an action or combat photographer he was not.

His photographers came to the battlefield after it was over, often days later, but before all the corpses were buried.

Still it was not combat photography.

Photos of men fighting and shooting were still the purview of the artist illustrator.

The spectacular Kurz and Allison prints had combat scenics all to themselves.

The photographers could not compete with glorious colour and glorious action.

Right Brady wearing the bitterness of what he had seen, and experienced, shortly before he died - broken-hearted by man, and government. A poor end for a fine photographer.

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) - The American Civil War, 1861-1865

Gardner became intrigued by Mathew Brady's photography, in 1851, in England.

When he moved to the US, in 1856, he went to work for Brady, managing his Washington, DC studio, and doing photography for him till 1862. He did portraits but also war photography.

He won an appointment as a government photographer during the war. Then he went on his own photographing the Civil War by following generals on their campaigns.

His work has often been misattributed to Brady. But Gardner also put his own name on the work of the many photographers he hired to work for him.

His fame had been as a portrait photographer, taking Lincoln's last pictures, and those of his assassins. He was the only photographer allowed to photograph their execution.

Gardener photographed graphic scenes of the dead, but again, he was no combat photographer.

He took no action photographs showing men in mortal combat. He too left that to the illustrators who could safely draw away in the safe confines of their studios.

To him too, the front lines were no place for the camera. When the shooting started he and his men sought cover, not good shots.


Though it looks like he was on the battlefield soon after the smoke cleared, he started to photograph a full two days after the fight. Bodies lay around for days sometimes.

So Gardner took safe portraits of the living and the dead. He was no action hero...

One of his most famous images is the corpses laid out ready for burial after the Battle of Antietam.

In fact Gardner produced a lot of fine war images that rival or exceed the product put out by the Brady studio.

But it's his most famous images of war dead that have landed Gardner in trouble of late.

He has become more famous as a faker of fine war photographs.

His most famous artistic photos of dead soldiers have been created by having his men cart the corpses around to make a better picture.

The Great Gettysburg Controversy - Frassanito vs Groves

Above Gardner's famous and artistic Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, now claimed by the Gettysburg Parks Service and historian William Frassanito as being a total fabrication. By a careful examination of the clothing etc. of the corpse, and comparing the terrain in the two pictures with the real locations, they are now certain that this rebel never had a home there, that he was dragged here from forty yards away, and his rifle too is a plant, and a prop used many times by Gardner to spice up his photos. Apparently no sniper used a musket like that. It's a US Springfield belonging to Gardner; Confederates used British Enfields. The mystery deepens.

Below the same body at the original location Gardner supposedly photographed him. Then he got an idea, and called his assistants...

The debate among experts is only about how Gardner actually faked this scene - did he drag the corpse up the hill, or down the hill and then add his own prop rifle for believability.

James Groves, an artist and amateur historian of the Civil War, living in Frostburg, MD, has created a first class historical research site on these photos, that exposes all the levels of trickery that Gardner and his associates used to con the viewer into believing their story line.

Groves disagrees with Frassanito and amasses a stunning array of evidence, in a tour-de-force of historical sleuthing at its best.)

Go to the Fascinating Case of the Fake War Photographer Exposed

It just proves that when war photographers are around there is no rest for the dead. They get dragged hither and yon for effect.

So Fenton dragged cannonballs around, to fake his shots; Gardner moved bodies and planted rifles.

Well at least Gardner and his assistants only dragged a dead soldier to a more photogenic position. And twisted a stubborn head around, now and then, or a resisting arm...

What will war photographers do next to get a great photo?

Well, in 1936 Robert Capa dragged a live soldier to a more photogenic position, and got him killed... But what a photo!

Fenton's huge and heavy wagon made way for Gardner's comparatively lightweight moving darkroom right.

And cameras were still heavy and had to be set on a tripod for taking pictures.

Not ideal for combat photography, even if the will was there to expose life and limb for the sake of a photograph of the firing line on battlefields

Below the closest Gardner ever got to a real action photo. The image of four Lincoln assassination conspirators, just moments after they were dropped.

Fake! Fake! Fake! - The American Civil War, 1861-1865

We don't mean the soldier killed at Gettysburg in 1863 and photographed by Gardner.

But everything else is!

Gardner called this remarkable picture "A Confederate Killed by a Shell."

The picture shows the man who fell in combat, with his rifle across his knees, after he is apparently disemboweled by a shell - there's one just above his right knee - with his guts spilling out and his left arm torn off. Pretty gruesome.

But historian William Frassanito's research suggests it's all fake, a creation of the photographer.

His belief is that the man was not gut shot at all, but, after days unburied on the field, chewed up by farm hogs.

It is really incredible to believe, that a rifle, held in his hands, when a shell rips into his middle, could survive a horrific impact, without a mark, in pristine shape, and then fall miraculously across his legs in photographic symmetry.

That's Gardner's studio prop again, which shows up in another Gardner picture left that we featured earlier adorning the Confederate Sharpshooter in his original home before he was moved... or after...

Frassanito suggests Gardner has also placed the lopped off hand, photogenically, just in front of the rifle.

If a shell had carried off the limb, wouldn't the hand be miles away too, like the missing arm?... Burp...

It was probably just not considered edible by the pigs who had their fill from more meaty parts before being chased off.

Oh, and the shell is a plant too. Why would one lie in a field beside an infantryman otherwise? A happy accident?

You can just never look at battlefield or massacre corpses the same way again.

Left was this rifle a happy drop across his breast? How hard was it to twist the arms into that position?

Were the hat and canteen there like that?

Lots of Civil War corpses have rifles photogenically falling across them.

Actually, one reason the photographers carried their prop rifles, etc., is because, coming to the battlefields days after the action, all the guns had been stolen by souvenir hunters. And often good hats, shoes, canteens, pouches, knives, and bayonets too.

So, if a corpse has too much good stuff around it, suspect the photographer's prop department.

Thirty years later, at Wounded Knee, we will encounter the rifle plant again by a photographer intent on demonizing a defenceless Indian massacred by US troops, to make it look like he was a hostile...

Below teetering precariously, a Timothy O'Sullivan prop rifle?

And the shooting photos were all fake too.

Here "Coloureds" are shooting at Dutch Gap. The audience is expected to believe they - and you - are on the front line as they pot at rebels just across the yard.

Think again...

While they are carefully sheltered behind the house and barrel, the photographer and his massive camera are out in the open.

And the darkroom wagon, is just in behind.

The Confederates are, certifiably, one or two counties away...









Here is another shooting image of Capt. Schwartz, looking fiercely in the direction of the rebels he has in his sights.

Rebels that just happened to stroll by while the good captain was lying down in his tent just behind.

This was in the days before Photoshop. Today the work of photographers only begins once the image is taken.

On the computer they could Photoshop out the offending tent, even the picket fence, and give Capt. Schwartz a more authentic battlefield background.

Below Capt. Schwartz in a more convincing setting. Now we can believe he's taking a parting shot at retreating Confederate rebels...

Modern photographers do this kind of work constantly to get that perfect shot they missed with the camera...

James Groves showed how Gardner and his assistants used 1863 "Photoshop" techniques to fake the glass plate of the "Rebel Sharpshooter" in Devil's Den above.

William H Illingworth (1844-1893) - The General Custer Black Hills Expedition, 1874

William Illingworth was hired by the US Army to accompany General Custer's right expedition to impose order on the Black Hills area of South Dakota and find a place to put a fort in the heart of Indian country. Men in the transport train found gold and a stampede of white gold seekers swarmed into Sioux country, which shortly erupted into a full fledged Indian war.

In fact two years later, in June, 1876, as a direct result, Custer's command of over 200 men would be wiped out in Montana.

In 1874, Illingworth was to provide images to the Army.

He produced some 70 glass plates like that below showing General Custer in white at the front centre.

But this was no action photograph.

Hundreds of men and horses had to stand still while Illingworth exposed his image on glass.

In both images from the expedition Illingworth's darkroom wagon is in the foreground. Photography was still a very cumbersome business.

It would have been a perfect time for an Indian attack, with the men all vulnerable, and the photographer ready. And Illingworth would have had the world's first real combat photograph.

And a great moment in war photography was lost for someone else to claim.

Illingworth never did provide all the images he promised the Army. To help pay for his costs, Illingworth was secretly selling the portfolio of prints. The Army got mad and sued, but lost on a technicality.

Illingworth went through three wives. He was alone, an alcoholic, and in poor health when he committed suicide with his hunting rifle. A poor end for a fine photographer.

Illingworth left some 1,600 negatives of the American West during its turbulent and formative years.

But 20 years after the Crimean War there still was no combat photographer in the wings.

Camillus "Buck" Sydney Fly (1849-1901) - The Apache Wars, 1886

Fly and his wife ran a photography studio in Tombstone, Arizona.

He became famous for the photographs he took when General George Crook went out to negotiate with Apache Indian Chief Geronimo, in March 1886.

Of course the war was over; Geronimo said he wanted terms. So there was to be no shooting, let alone action pictures or combat photos. Otherwise Camillus would never have gone. After all, one could get killed, taking action pictures of Apaches at war

Though Fly was most famous for his "war photography" of the fierce and rebellious Apaches, that he took on that expedition, he was really a portrait photographer.

He made a poor living in Tombstone, and shortly after taking these pictures started to drink heavily. In spite of it he was elected Sheriff of Tombstone.

His wife left him and they drifted apart.

He died alcoholic, alone, and poor. A bad end for a fine photographer.

Years after he died, his wife - who came to his deathbed - published a collection of his photographs entitled, "Scenes in Geronimo's Camp: The Apache Outlaw and Murderer."

Right a famous portrait Camillus took of Geronimo and below the peace negotiations. General Crook on the right in round hat, Geronimo prominent on the left.

War photography had advanced. This was a real event, taking place then and there, not an aftermath of a battle. This was an action photo of sorts, though the action has all the fire and brimstone of a boardroom meeting. No one is in danger here.

But thirty years after Fenton none of Fly's photos are any more a combat photograph than any Fenton took.

Geronimo on the right.

Fly spent two days around Geronimo's camp during the negotiations and shot genuine images of the Apaches in the field showing Americans exactly how the "hostiles" looked when they tried to beat back the army and settlers that invaded their home lands.

They are sad photographs of a people whose technological culture could never be a match for that brought against them by the ruthless white man.

Their finest days had come and gone. Only bitterness and tears lay ahead...

George E Trager - Wounded Knee, 1891

John C Grabill - Pine Ridge War, 1891

The Indian Wars of the American West - or more accurately, the American Army's war on the Indians - continued in the 1890s.

And still the photographers weren't there to catch the action. Too damned dangerous, that's why...

But they came quickly once the shooting stopped, the danger passed...

The first on the scene after the Massacre at Wounded Knee, in South Dakota, in 1891, was George Trager. John Grabill followed too.

But this was several days after the US army massacred some 200 defenceless, fleeing men, women, and children, and left their bodies to stiffen up in grotesque forms on the prairie.

Trager left memorable images of white western frontier racism run amok, though that was not his intention. He was advertising revenge...

He fancied himself a war photographer. See his advertising promo that he stamped on the back of his images. He called it a war, which dignified a wanton butchery of defenceless women and children as some kind of military contest between armed forces of two competing groups.


Note Wounded Knee is captioned as a Battle in the Pine Ridge War, when in fact, the army simply fired artillery and rifle shells into a camp of Indians they had already surrounded and effectively disarmed days before. General Miles called it a "massacre."

But the caption gave whites bragging rights over Indians they killed. Nothing had really changed in the American mind set since Currier celebrated the death of Tecumseh in 1846.

Go to Nathaniel Currier Kills Tecumseh

This is exactly the same kind of racist sophistry employed by the Israelis 110 years later when the Israel Defence Forces massacred some 1600 Gaza women, children, and men, while suffering the loss of about 10 of its own soldiers. The propagandizing American and Canadian press followed the Israeli lead slavishly in calling that event a war as well, when it had far more in common with Wounded Knee. It was more a liquidation, like Lidice, by the Nazis in World War II, than any legitimate military confrontation.

Go to Great Canadian Roadkill

Above Chief Big Foot frozen stiff outside his tent, still unburied several days after being killed.

Below the Medicine Man, and beyond, among dead women and children, is a man shot running away, now forever frozen in panic.

But note that the spirit of Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner lives on, forty years later. The rifle is a photographic plant. But this time, it is not just to make a better photograph but to make a propaganda statement. George Trager is helping to dignify the butchery by making the dead man look like a hostile warrior fallen in combat, instead of a man murdered while throwing up his hands defensively, completely overcome by what is going on.

So, some thirty years after Brady, Gardner, and O'Sullivan, nothing has really progressed in war photography. Photographers are still showing up days after a battle and taking pictures of corpses. Oh, and lest we forget, planting rifles on the dead to make them look more photogenic and menacing.

And the statements the photographers are making are not about man's inhumanity to man, or the injustice of mass murder of Indian people.

Trager is selling these photos to people who are pleased with the massacre, the killing of any and all "hostiles" and any Indian anywhere.

It is the age of "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." These are photos that celebrate the Christian triumph over evil.

Go to General Sheridan

John C Grabill who also won fame for his "war" photographs following the "Pine Ridge War," carefully propped up a most congenial looking Band leader Little as a "Renegade Indian."

To show white people how deadly an enemy he was he provides him with a rifle, tomahawk, bow, and all the arrows he can hold. Little knows this is silliness beyond belief and can't understand what's going on. But Indians have always had a good sense of humour, so he plays along.

Grabill hopes his white buyers are looking for the blood of some poor white settler on Little's axe.

Nothing had changed in 30 years on the American frontier.

Go to Little Crow

Grabill also published celebrated views of the camps of the "hostiles."

Did anyone wonder how a lone photographer could get access to the camps of Indians supposedly on the warpath, and leisurely expose his images while all was peaceful and tranquil around him?

One of the finest views of an Indian camp in existence.

Grabill makes this out to be a hostile Indian camp, and by inference, that he is taking his life in his hands to get this image.

Photographers were also faking the titles on their pictures, distorting the reality just so that the public would marvel at their audacity and be fooled into buying images of a camp of real savages on the war path.

Here Grabill and Trager have not really advanced war photography beyond Fenton forty years earlier

Their scenes might just as well be the tents of the British Army before Balaclava, or Brady's corpses at Antietam.

In a way there is almost a step backwards.

Brady and Gardner brought out the terrible cost of war.

With the bodies at Wounded Knee one can almost hear the gloating in white homes that bought them, all across the American West...

But again, no action photos.

Left The return of the conquering heroes after they did their deed at Wounded Knee.

They stood still for their exposure. One thing for certain. They would not be attacked by local Indians while posing. They had been put in their proper place...

Go to Wounded Knee

Spanish-American War, 1898

One who welcomed the massacre at Wounded Knee was none other than famed American painter, illustrator, and sculptor of the Wild West, Frederic Remington right. Writing to a friend he said:

"I've got some Winchesters . . . and when the massacring bgins which you speak of, I can get my share of 'em and what's more I will. Jews-injuns-Chinamen-Italians-Huns, the rubbish of the earth I hate."

The Spanish-American War came and went so fast no photographer was able to build a reputation on photographing corpses of Americans, let alone take action pictures.

Only seven years after Wounded Knee, Frederic Remington was sent to Cuba to capture scenes of the war, and revolution, and found no subjects worth painting. So he complained to his boss, William Randolph Hearst, wanting to come home.

"You furnish the pictures; I'll furnish the war!" Hearst retorted, and with his anti-Spanish journalistic coverage he soon had America going to war against Spain over Cuba. It was to be a "splendid little war" and lasted only a few months.

Go to Splendid Little War

It produced some memorable canvases by Remington, and others, typically of combat scenes, that photographers were still not eager to capture.

The photographers did the usual camp stuff.

This time they were doing ship bodies for the first time, after the American Navy decimated the Spanish fleet outside Santiago.

Go to Santiago Bay

In fact by 1900 the action shots in war still all came from the same source they had for centuries, the painters and illustrators, like Remington.

Fifty years after Fenton no one could be found who wanted to risk taking combat photos of men at war.

The photographers who ventured forth, did the same camp shots that Fenton had done.

Admittedly some of the men were walking by. But none were running or charging the enemy. Remington had to do that.

Right is a typical view, supposedly facing the enemy. Hardly! The men are practicing just outside the safety of their own tent lines - a place no Spaniard would even think of approaching.

And the shooting shots were no more convincing that the Civil War pictures of the "Coloureds" shooting at Dutch Gap above.

Clearly there is no foe in sight. The men are performing for the photographer who is exposed to supposed enemy fire high above the men, who are hunkered down for protection behind sand bags.

Oh, and their tents and shelters are just behind them again. There are no Spaniards close.

So much for combat photography in the Spanish-American War.



Just one year later, the Great Anglo-Boer War would break out.

And from Canada would come a young Lieutenant, James Cooper Mason, with a camera he was eager to try out on a real battlefield.

Unlike all his predecessors in the rare art of war photography, he was not interested in making money from his photos - in fact he gave many away to family and friends - and so was not motivated to fake his photos to improve income. Or, like them, avoid the combat zone, and play it safe...

His prime and only interest was taking pictures because there was a story that needed telling - regardless of the danger it entailed.

A photograph, with a bullet-proof provenance, supported by diaries and letters, that he would take, on the front line of a battlefield, would earn him the right to be considered the Father of Combat Photography.

He reversed the age old credo of war photographers and said that the story comes first; the concern for personal well-being second, so opening the door to combat photography.

Discarding the traditional fear and fakery motivating other war photographers, he would take the camera where it had never been before, to the very front line of the bloodiest battle of the entire Boer War.

After him everything in war photography would change... But it would take decades, before a photographer of equal courage would appear...

Why this photo qualifies as the world's first certifiable combat photograph.

Nothing similar, or earlier, with back-up provenance to match, has ever surfaced before.

1 - The photographer is known - one of Canada's most famous soldiers of the Boer War, Lt. James Cooper Mason, DSO.

2 - The occasion is known - the Battle of Paardeberg, the bloodiest battle of the Boer War.

3 - The location of the event is known, and certifiable to within a couple of hundred yards, at Paardeberg, South Africa.

4 - The location of the photo and photographer, are known, and certifiable - the extreme front of the firing line of B Company, Royal Canadian Regiment, opposite the Boer trenches.

5 - The time is known - 4 pm, Feb. 18, 1900.

6 - The danger in taking it is known - the photographer had his helmet and badge shot.

7 - The camera that took it is known and exists - a # 2 Kodak Model A Pocket Folding camera.

8 - The provenance of the person, the event, the materials involved, are backed up by diary entries and letters.

9 - There is no Fenton-Gardner-Capa fakery anywhere in the staging or taking of this photo.

This is also the first photo in history of a dead man ever taken on an active battlefield. All previous photos of battlefield corpses - including the celebrated Boer War Spion Kop photos - were taken long after the shooting had stopped and the danger passed.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

The World's First Combat Photograph - Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO, 4pm, Feb. 18th, 1900

The photographer states that the photo shows two British infantrymen in khaki helmets firing on the front lines, while a dead man, in a flopped over helmet, is in the picture.

Orig. photo - Size - 12.5 x 12.5 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON

Go to World's First Real Combat Photo
Go to No Capa Fake Here

Those Faking Canadians...

Tradition holds that those are Canadians climbing the rocks at Sunnyside in January, 1900. Professor Carman Miller put them on the cover of Canada's definitive book on the Boer War, especially because the Canadian Maple Leaf badge shows so clearly.

But it's a fake...

















Note how the near helmet on the LIFE archival photo right, which is totally identical with the one on the Miller cover, has a completely different badge.

Carman left, has used a suitably patriotic Canadian maple leaf badge, of the kind the Canadians wore at the time. Well, sort of...

It's clear there is no reason for LIFE to have doctored its photo. But there are plenty of reasons why someone would put a Canadian badge over top of the other.

Who did this, and when, no one can say. Except that faking was done. And done by Canadians... And badly... Perhaps Carman had the wife do it at home, to save money. Authors in Canada are not well paid... The publishers keep most of the government grant money for themselves.

So a faked war photo adorns the cover of Canada's most important Boer War book.






We have not been able to trace the age of the LIFE photo, which comes from a much better master - and so closer to the camera original - than the one used on the book cover, or what badge it shows. To what unit does this soldier belong?

Once faking is detected in a picture, it undermines the credibility of the entire photo.

Now, look again!

The original helmet has a pronounced brim, like several others in the big picture. But in the book cover photo the area over the brim has been filled in with helmet white to get rid of the brim. It's a sloppy raggedy job, with noticeably fuzzy edges.

Canadian helmets had no brim. Fake badge, fake helmet... Will the fakery on this (supposed) Canadian war photo never end?

Go to See a Real Canadian Helmet and Badge

The first time we've seen this picture used - and so, hopefully, before subsequent faking was done with the camera negative - was in TG Marquis' Canada's Sons on Kopje and Veldt published in 1900 right.

Like Rosie diManno, who fancies herself a war correspondent - read propagandist - at the Toronto Star - and who would follow in his wake when penning on Afghanistan, Marquis could hardly hold back the gush in boostering anything about Canadians who like to make war. And is just as accurate.

Contrary to the hype, the Canadians were only a part of Col. Pilcher's infantry, which also included other British units.

And Marquis doesn't know his cap badges either. That is, by no stretch, an RCR Canada maple leaf on those helmets. He probably took the advice of the Canadian War Museum.

But it now appears that the LIFE archival has been doctored as well. It looks like someone did careless Photoshop clone stamping on the back of the helmet - where the seam has jumped - and did not fix it. He was probably flying in part of another helmet. Other helmets show more fakery.









the array of faked helmets: the first (1) from Marquis 1900, very much the predecessor of the LIFE photo (2), though the latter shows fakery in the brim, the badge, and the jumping seam. Still an obvious match to the Marquis original. Both feature an unknown badge.

The one used on Miller's book (3) is a really horrid fake and has no resemblance to the Marquis original, even though that was the obvious inspiration for putting this as the cover image of Canada's premier Boer War book. It also looks like the fakery extended to making the helmet more domed, wider, less pointy, at the top. (We hear that the Canadian War Museum artist who did this horridly amateur desecration was apparently promoted shortly after, for "outstanding feats of patriotism.")

The badges are all fakes when you compare them with the genuine James McKerihen badge right that he wore in South Africa as a member of the RCRs. Professor Marquis how could you abandon your critical faculties so? You remind us so much of Rosie...

Carman should have ignored the advice from the Canadian War Museum too. Clearly the experts there provided him with a God awful copy that makes it appear a Canadian Black man wore that fake smudge pretending to be an RCR cap badge. It wasn't white; it was black.

The LIFE badge shows only the top part of the whole seen in the original.

We still have not found anyone who knows what this badge is...

This earliest badge looks more like the Russian imperial eagle, than a Canadian maple leaf. Could this actually be a previously unknown image of the Russians on the heights of Alma? Or the Israelites on the Mountain?

Who's doing all the fakery and why?

Just like all of Rosie diManno's articles on Afghanistan, this picture has lost just about any credibility it ever had...

So now, are those really Canadians at Sunnyside, or Americans storming San Juan Hill, or circus actors in a Buffalo Bill reenactment, that are on the cover of Canada's most famous Boer War book??? Just ask Rosie; she'll tell you flat out...

And the Canadian War Museum underwrote this book and its experts vetted it!!!

Carman, who's a fine historian, is ill served by publishers who don't give a hoot about quality production in pictorials to illustrate the great information that he provides.

Will those faking Canadians never stop? Here are three long pages of 43 - count em - Great Canadian Heritage Howlers from another Boer War book, produced by James Lorimer and the experts at the Canadian War Museum...

Go to Great Canadian Fake Combat Photos
Go to You Gals Sure Made Me Laugh 43 Times