On the 23 October 1853 the Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia. Five months later France and England came into the war on the side of the Turks. Very quickly, the main hostilities became concentrated in the Crimea, around the town of Sebastopol, defended by the Russians.
In an attempt to change English public opinion, which was then hostile to the war, Queen Victoria asked Roger Fenton, a friend of the royal family, to make a photographic account of the conflict. Financed by the publisher Thomas Agnew and assisted by Marcus Sparling, Fenton disembarked in the port of Balaclava, and then went on to Sebastopol in March 1855.
He took a number of photographs of the siege but concealed the violence of the fighting. The reasons for this were as much technical – the pose had to be held for between 10 and 20 seconds – as ideological. So most of his work consisted of posed scenes, and deserted battlefields, before or after the action.
The Musée d'Orsay has an album entitled Incidents of Camp Life containing about sixty photos on "scenes of military life". On the subject of this photograph, the critic Ernest Lacan wrote: "We have often heard about the entente cordiale […] it is the "Open Sesame!" of the future; but no-one can better put the idea of it into practice than soldiers from different nations fighting side by side in the Middle East for the same cause".