The photographic career of Roger Fenton (1819-1869) lasted only eleven years, but during that time he became the most famous photographer in Britain. Part of the second generation of photographers who came to maturity in the 1850s—only a decade after the process was invented—Fenton strove to elevate the new medium to the status of a fine art and to establish it as a respected profession. He was the first official photographer to the British Museum and one of the founders of the Photographic Society, later named the Royal Photographic Society, an organization he hoped would help establish the medium’s importance in modern life.
This exhibition takes its title, All the Mighty World, from William Wordsworth’s 1798 “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” an ode to nature, in which the poet declares himself:
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
And what perceive; . . .
Fenton himself photographed Tintern Abbey, and his landscapes reveal a reverence for nature that echoes Wordsworth’s passion. These lines also suggest Fenton’s belief that the perceptive eye of the camera could record “all the mighty world.” Always exploring new subjects and testing the limits of his practice, Fenton photographed Britain’s ruined abbeys and stately homes, Russian architecture, romantic landscapes, the collections of the British Museum, the Crimean War, the royal family, as well as “Orientalist scenes” and still lifes—all of which are represented in this exhibition.