Two Military Musicians

Anne Havinga

This photograph dates from the early days of the medium, and is one of the first examples of the political use of photography. It was taken by Joseph Cundall, a British writer, publisher of children’s books, and photographer. The two soldiers in the photograph had just returned from the Crimean War (1853–56), the major conflict fought north of the Black Sea between a coalition of Britain, France, Turkey, and Sardinia against Russia. When the conflict was over, Queen Victoria, passionate about photography, honored returning British heroes by having their portraits professionally taken. Cundall made many of these, placing his sitters in a studio setting, while his friend Robert Howlett took others at the naval docks. This image of a young drummer and fifer, looking much like brothers in their dress uniforms and Busby hats, speaks to the humanity of returning veterans. The Queen’s act to memorialize them with the latest technology raises the question: who honors our veterans today, who preserves the memory of their service, and how?

photograph of two mid-19th century British soldiers
Joseph Cundall, Two Military Musicians, 1856. Photograph, albumen print from glass negative. Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow Fund. 2008.677
Anne Havinga is the Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Chair of Photography.