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Mistakes in the titles of Crimean War photographs held by collections

I have recently been comparing collections holding Roger Fenton’s Crimean war images and have discovered that the titles of some portraits in the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington are different to the same images in the Royal Collection Trust (RCT). The portrait entitled Colonel Goodlake at the LOC is entitled Lieutenant Colonel Chapman C.B., Royal Engineers at the RCT. Also, the LOC’s Lieutenant Colonel Chapman, C.B., Royal Engineers is entitled Major Chapman at the RCT. In addition, the LOC’s Major Chapman, 20th Regiment is entitled Major Goodlake, Coldstream Guards at the RCT. I believe that the RCT titles are correct and would like to suggest that the LOC investigate the matter and clarify the situation.

Incorrectly labelled photographs cause mistakes to be made by authors using contemporary pictures in publications on the Crimean War. An example is the book entitled Images of War, The Crimean War, which is published by Pen and Sword. The authors have used the LOC titles in the captions of two of the portraits mentioned above.

I have usually notified collections when I have found conflicting or incorrect titles to Crimean War pictures in the past. Some thank me for my efforts, but others do not reply. I have not followed up whether the changes I suggested to most of the collections were made or not. Today, I quickly went through Fenton’s images in the John Paul Getty Museum in the USA and found all but one were correctly named. However, the title of Cavalry Camp looking towards Kadikoi (84.XM.1028.26) was incorrect as it shows a picture that is correctly entitled as View of the Lines of Balaklava from Guard’s Hill, Canrobert’s Hill in the distance at the LOC and RCT. There were also some typing errors, such as ‘Captain Porial’ instead of ‘Captain Portal’.

I also recently found that two of Fenton’s Crimean portraits in the RCT showing the same army officer with the same horse at the same location at roughly the same time had two different names in the images' titles. The first (RCIN 2500272) was entitled Major Hussey Fane Keane, who was described as being in the Royal Engineers (see above right). This information is correct. However, the second (RCIN 2500348) showing the same man was entitled Major Giles Keane, who was described as being in 86th Foot (see below left). This information is incorrect. There was a Major Giles Keane in the 86th Foot at the time, but the regiment never fought in the Crimea being stationed in India. I haven’t the slightest idea how the RCT came by this name for the portrait. Again, more care needs to be taken by collections in making sure their accessions have the correct names and descriptions.

Ideally, institutes holding historical photographs should interact with each other to ensure that titles of images conform between collections, but I suppose a lack of funds, time and perhaps motivation prevents this from happening. I should also mention here that, as a specialist in Crimean photography with a first-hand knowledge of the topography of Sevastopol and its environs, I approached the head of a well-known collection and offered to improve the descriptions of its Crimean War photographs. This offer was declined even though I was willing to do the job for the sake of posterity at no cost to the collection. I am now in coronavirus lockdown and busy writing articles for publication in the RPS’s The PhotoHistorian and the CWRS’s The War Correspondent so that the information I have on what is seen in Crimean War images does not disappear when I do.

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Comment by Micah Messenheimer on April 20, 2020 at 20:09

To add to Adrienne's comment below regarding Library of Congress titling of Fenton's work, I would be interested in conversing more via email. Would it be possible to please send any supporting documentation you might have regarding the identity of the subjects of the portraits you mention to ppref@loc.gov with my name in the subject line of your email? We have identified both instances where the handwritten titles on the verso of the Library's have been incorrect and those where the titles published by Thomas Agnew & Sons were in error. If the identifications are in error, we would be happy to note the actual subjects pictured in our catalog records alongside the transcribed titles.
Micah Messenheimer, Curator of Photography, Library of Congress

Comment by Anne Strathie on April 20, 2020 at 17:22

For what it's worth, I've found variations in titles of photographs held by LOC and others of photographs by Herbert Ponting and discovered that in many cases, both are correct in their own way. I don't know enough about Fenton's life and work to know whether it's the same situation, but Ponting sold photographs to stereoview companies, sometimes with suggested titles, some of which they used, others which they varied. He would then sell the same or similar photographs to magazines and/or register them for copyright (UK and/or US) using similar but not always identical titles. Then, if he published them with a magazine article or book, or presented another copy to someone, there might be yet another title given by them or him. No necessarily identical situation (particularly in the wrong name), but by way of example, could it perhaps be that Lieut. Chapman had been promoted to Major by the time the photograph was given to the monarch or used in another context later? I've got to use a late 1920s photograph in my book which is clearly (and correctly at the time) labelled 'Duke of York', do I call him 'King George, then DoY', 'DoY, later King George' or what? 

Comment by Michael Laurence Deane on April 20, 2020 at 16:00

I agree, from my experience a well known museum has decided to ignore a correction, even though myself and another person have independently asked them to correct a glaring error. Museums are looked on as a source of truth and when an error is pointed out to them, for the sake of posterity the error should be corrected. Is it pride or laziness that is stopping them doing this?

Maybe someone with more influence could persuade them. The Museum is The Oshkosh Public Museum and refers to their Online Collections Database. The entry in question can be found by searching Arsene Garnier. See https://oshkosh.pastperfectonline.com/photo/6D1CF468-81EA-44B4-8A6E...  The image shows the Frenchman Arsene himself who was a well known photographer in Guernsey (Not a Canadian!) who was a friend of Victor Hugo. More information on this photographer can be found on my website    www.deanephotos.com/section571669_615469.html or googling his name

Comment by Adrienne Lundgren on April 20, 2020 at 14:03

Thank you for this information. Regarding the LC collections, titling issue may be caused by the fact that the images were titled on the verso in iron gall ink (presumed to have been written by Fenton.) These images are unmounted, unlike many of them in other collections, and came directly from the family. Thus, the LC titles have come directly from the titles listed on the back of the images. If the titles listed on the verso conflict with those in other collections, more work may need to be done on which is actually the correct before re-naming the image. When things are back to normal and I can go into the lab, I could send you an example of an image showing the title on the back. This may help you with your work. Cheers

Comment by Wilson Laidlaw on April 20, 2020 at 12:24

I have found museums very resistant to suggestions that there might be any error on any of their descriptions. I was in a museum in New Orleans and I noticed that some Leica cameras were incorrectly labelled (I am a keen amateur Leica historian, with over 30 classic Leicas in my collection). I told the museum staff very politely, only to be told very bluntly, that they were correct, I was wrong and basically to mind my own business. 

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