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Civil War Photography

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Hannah Sussman

on 11 June 2013

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Transcript of Civil War Photography

Civil War Photography:
The Images That Changed a Nation

Mathew Brady
The Civil War has left it's mark on America not only politically, but in a way that has forever changed the way we view war. It forced men who otherwise would have spent their lives taking portraits into the battlefield and shattered the public's perception of the lives of soldiers. It is these people and these ideas that still resonate with us today.
A Lasting Impact
As mentioned before, the Civil War was the first war to be photographed. This impacted the way people perceived the war, along with changing the lives of soldiers and politicians.
Impact of Photography
Ambrotypes & Daguerreotypes
Types of Photography
"Civil War Trust." Alexander Gardner. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2013.

"Daguerreotype Photographs: The Daguerreotype." Daguerreotype Photographs: The Daguerreotype. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2013.

"Discovery News." DNews. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2013.

"Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs." - Ambrotypes and Tintypes in the Liljenquist Collection - Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (Library of Congress). N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2013.

"Mathew B. Brady." Civil War Photographs: --Biographical Note. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2013.
Early Life
Mathew Brady was born in 1922 in Warren County, New York. He was the third child of Irish immigrants. When he was 16, he moved to Saratoga, NY where he became the student of the famous portrait painter William Page. It was then that he fell in love with photography, a relatively new medium. In 1844, Brady opened his own photography studio in New York City and began photographing famous Americans. Later, in 1849, he opened a studio in Washington D.C.
The portrait of an unidentified man by Mathew Brady
(Between 1840-1860)
Involvement in the War
Brady was immediately taken by the idea of documenting the war. First, he applied for permission to go to battle sites with a friend of his, General Winfield Scott, but he later applied to President Lincoln himself. Lincoln granted him permission in 1861, only requiring that Brady fund the project himself. Brady brought his entire studio to battlefields in his effort to document the war. Brady and his team took thousands of pictures of the war, including portraits of famous politicians and generals such as Lincoln and Ulysses Grant.
"I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go,' and I went."
-Mathew Brady
During the War
Brady's first popular photographs documented the First Battle of Bull Run. He got so close to the action that he barely avoided capture. Brady organized a team of more than 20 men to help take photographs of the battles. Brady mostly stayed in Washington D.C. in later years, for the reason that his eyesight had begun to fail in the 1850's.
"The Dead of Antietam"
In 1862, Brady opened a gallery of photographs from the Battle of Antietam called "The Dead of Antietam." Many of the photographs were graphic and contained photos of corpses. This was the first time many Americans had seen this side of the war.
Later Life
After the war, the public grew tired of hearing of the war and Brady's popularity declined drastically. Brady went bankrupt after the war because of the money he spent developing photographs. Brady died penniless in January of 1896 from complications from a streetcar accident. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. After his death, his nephew took over his business.
Ambrotypes came about in the early 1850's, replacing daguerreotypes. Though there is some controversy over who first invented the ambrotype, it was first patented by James Ambrose Cutting in 1854.
Daguerreotypes came about in 1837, invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. It was the first commercially successful photographic process. It involves involves 10 minutes of exposure and lots of sunlight. The oldest documented daguerreotype was taken in 1838 of a busy street in Paris. Because the it took so long to take the picture, the street appears to be deserted because the constantly moving traffic didn't leave an image, however, an image of a man getting his shoes shined can be seen.
Daguerrotypes are a type of photograph that are made inside the camera without a negative.
"Ambrotype" comes from word "impression". An ambrotype creates a positive image from on a sheet of glass.
Usage During War
Though they were around during the time of the war, daguerreotypes were not widely used. They were found to be too bulky and were soon replaced by the lighter ambrotype.
The picture is created from a sheet of silver plated copper. The polished plate is placed in a light sensitive box and is exposed to iodine.
The iodine creates a chemical coating on the plate. Then the plate is transferred into the camera.
Exposure can last anywhere from 10-20 minutes. The exposure is developed from being rinsed in saltwater and chloride, and finally the image is placed behind glass for protection
A silver-plated copper plate
A daguerreotype camera
A daguerreotype of David Henry Thoreau
Daguerreotype vs. Ambrotype
An ambrotype camera
Next, the wet plate collodion process is used. During this process a glass plate is coated with collodion then dipped in a silver nitrate solution.
While still wet, the plate is exposed to the subject. Exposure time was only 50 to 60 seconds. The photo was then developed. The result of this was a negative, which when reflected light on a dark background created a positive image.
The negative of an ambrotype
The average size of an ambrotype
Usage During War
Ambrotypes were used much more than daguerreotypes during the Civil War. Ambrotypes were affordable. A modification of the ambrotype, called the tintype gained popularity during the war. Tintypes were more durable and could be sent through the mail. Ambrotypes were also preferred by photographers during the war because of the low exposure time.
A tintype photograph
Photographers of the War
Alexander Gardner
Early Life
Alexander Gardner was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire in 1821. (A part of Scotland). Gardner was heavily influence by the socialist ideas of Welsh politician Robert Owen. He dreamed of incorporating these ideas into the American government. However, he stayed in Scotland until 1856, when he saw Mathew Brady's photography and was inspired.
Work with Brady
Gardner moved to the United States in 1856 and stayed in New York. He then contacted Brady and worked with him until 1862. Gardner specialized in making imperial photographs (large prints), but Gardner began taking over much more responsibility after Brady's eyesight began to fail. Gardner was put in charge of Brady's Washington D.C. studio in 1858.
Involvement in the War
Gardner first gained popularity in 1860 by taking photographs of soldiers leaving for war. He also photographed the Battle of Antietam along with Mathew Brady. He also became the staff of General George McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac. Gardner also photographed the Battle of Gettysburg and the Siege of Petersburg.
Alexander Gardner, 1860
A photograph from Brady's and Gardner's studio
Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War
Gardner published a two-volume work in 1866 called "Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War". The book contained 50 hand mounted photographs. The book contained prints from William Pywell, Tim O'Sullivan, and many other photographers. Among these photographs are considered to be the last pictures of Lincoln, said taken 4 days before his assassination. However, this was later proven to be a hoax.
Documenting Lincoln's Death
Gardner also documented Lincolns funeral. He also photographed the people involved in the assassination plot. He was also the only photographer allowed at their hanging. These photographs were later published in Harper's Weekly.
There was some controversy over Gardner's photographs of the war. After being studied by newspapers and experts, they claimed that many of them were fabrications. They had spotted two dead Confederate soldiers in two different photographs in two different positions. Gardner and his team later admitted to dragging and positioning bodies to make the shot more dramatic.
Later Life
After the war, Gardner was commissioned to photograph Native Americans. After finishing this project, Gardner lost interest in photography and became involved in insurance. He became sick in 1882 and the died same year on December 10.
In 1861, war broke out in the United States as a result of rising tension between the North and the South. Brother was pitted against brother, fathers were forced to fight their sons. This was a kind of war that was new to the United States, not only because it was among itself, but because of the way it was documented. Photography had only been invented two decades prior to the start of the war, making the Civil War the first war to be photographed.
The Reason for Documenting
The Civil War was the first war to be documented through photography. The desire to document the war came along with the invention of cameras that had a low exposure time, such as the ambrotype. Photographers captured vivid details and never before seen images of the war such as photographs of bloodied battlefields. Photographers risked their lives to capture the truth behind the war.
A New View of the War
Before this time, the public only heard stories of glory and bravery from the survivors of the war, but never saw the other side. For most people, visiting the galleries such as "The Dead of Antietam" was the first time they had seen death and gore as part of the war. This caused the public's perception of war to change. It shattered their ideas of everyday life on the battlefront and the views of generals and heroes by showing the true, gritty and gory nature of the war.
Impact During the War
Photography made an impact not only after, but during the time of the Civil War. Soldiers began giving their families photographs of them to remember them by, usually tintypes. These would be kept as keepsakes, while previously all the families would have were memories.
Impact on Politics
Photography improved the image of political figures. This gave them exposure to the public that had never been seen before and often helped their campaigns. Lincoln joked that the may not have been re-elected if it weren't for the portrait of him taken by Mathew Brady.
Invented in 1841, photography was a relatively new practice around the time of the Civil War. However, photography had developed rapidly in these years, bringing about two new types of photography, daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, during the time of the war.
Though most men became soldiers during the time of the war, some chose a different path. A small group of men took it upon themselves to document the lives of the soldiers and horrors of the war.
A photograph from the gallery
One of Brady's popular photographs
Taken by Gardner at the Battle of Gettysburg
John Wilkes Booth, taken by Gardner
The photograph "Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter"
was proven to be fabricated.
The portrait of a Native American taken by Gardner
By Hannah Sussman
Full transcript