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  Carol Popp de Szathmari, photographer

The first documented war photographer Carol Popp de Szathmari was born in Transylvania (modern-day Romania) in 1812. Traveling throughout Europe as a teenager, he settled in Bucharest in 1843, where he received arts training in painting and engraving. The following year, he studied the new daguerreotype process, and soon after promoted himself as a portrait photographer. Within four years, he mastered the albumen glass negative process, and throughout the next decade established himself as one of the earliest wet collodion practitioners. His professional career began literally with a bang, during the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War in June of 1853. From an outpost in Wallachia (south of the Carpathian Mountains), Mr. Szathmari became the first photographer to chronicle combat between Russia and Turkey, and soon gained entry into the inner circle of the Russian occupation.

In the early spring of 1854, Mr. Szathmari filled a specially constructed horse-drawn van (which also served as a darkroom) with his essential tools of the trade - cameras and glass plates - and headed to the border of the Danube River. The photographer was as close to the line of fire as were the soldiers, and he was creating panoramic views of the Crimean War at least a year before his contemporaries Roger Fenton, Ludwig Angerer, and William Russell. His lenses depicted the war from both sides, first from Russian military installations, where he barely escaped Turkish artillery fire while working at a field hospital. When the Turks occupied Bucharest, Mr. Szathmari received special permission to photograph Field Marshal Omar Pasha and several high-ranking Turkish officers. He offered the first glimpses into daily combat life. After the war, a compilation of more than 200 of these photographs were circulated throughout Europe, and copies of wartime albums became cherished collectables of such photography enthusiasts as Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, and pianist Franz Liszt. Mr. Szathmari’s images of war were exhibited at Paris’s Exposition Universelle in 1855, where the photographer received a Second Class Medal.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Mr. Szathmari enjoyed an unparalleled status as Romania's first certified photographer, and one of only ten professional photographers throughout Europe. He turned his lens to local street life, capturing images of Romanian peasants and gypsies in their traditionally ornate garb. In 1863, Mr. Szathmari acquired the title of Ruling Prince Court Painter for Wallachia Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, which he retained for the remainder of his life. The following year, he became a member of Paris's Societe Francaise de Photographie, and joined Vienna's photographic society in 1870. Mr. Szathmari published several articles on Romanian art photography, and the 65-year-old photographer returned to the battlefield in 1877 to document the Russian-Romanian-Ottoman War. Carol Popp de Szathmari died in Bucharest in 1887. Although largely forgotten, Mr. Szathmari deserves recognition for his groundbreaking wartime photography and as one of medium's founding fathers. His "Turkish Artillery" salted paper print, part of Queen Victoria's extensive photographic collection, is currently part of the Royal Collection Trust.

2017 Carol Szathmari (URL:

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1370-1371.

1997 Historical Dictionary of War Journalism by Mitchel P. Roth (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press), p. 310.

2012 How Early Photographers Captured History’s First Images of War (URL:

1892 Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, Vol. III (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. and A. Constable), p. 71.

2017 Turkish Artillery 1854 (URL:

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2018-03-27 18:36:03

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