Jump to content
The Education Forum

Robert E. Lee Resource Material


Paul McWhorter
 Share

Recommended Posts

Thanks for the link Paul and welcome to the forum.

I was particularly interested in your section on the Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. A few years ago a student of mine wrote assignment that suggested many of Brady's famous battlefield photographs were to a large extent 'staged' for the camera, including those of the 'corpses from Antietam'.

My student might have challanged your conclusion that 'His war scenes demonstrated that photographs could be more than posed portraits, and his efforts represent the first instance of the comprehensive photo-documentation of a war.'

Unfortunately, I can remember little of my student's work now and I no longer have a copy. Do you think there is any truth in his thesis?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your points on Mathew Brady are good ones. During his day, there was really no such things as photojournalism, so no real standards existed. Some of the things he did would likely not pass muster today. Yet, the overall message portraid in his pictures are of large historic value. For example, thousands did die at Antietam, and he took photographs of the aftermath of the battle. Lets say that for a particular corpse, he turned the head towards the camera, and put the soldiers gun back in his hand, as if he died clutching the gun. These artistic enhancements would not be considered acceptable. However, we still learn a lot by viewing Brady's photo of the dead soldier. His gear, the terrain, the nature of his injuries, the landscape, etc.

The conclusion I come to is to learn from the Brady photos, but to keep in mind the standards were different in the era he worked.

Thanks for the feedback.

Paul

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was particularly interested in your section on the Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. A few years ago a student of mine wrote assignment that suggested many of Brady's famous battlefield photographs were to a large extent 'staged' for the camera, including those of the 'corpses from Antietam'.

Not only were they posed, they were rarely taken by Brady. He sent Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy O'Sullivan, William Pywell, George Barnard, and eighteen other men to travel throughout the country taking photographs of the war. Each one had his own travelling darkroom so that that collodion plates could be processed on the spot.

Brady spent most of the time organizing his cameramen from his office in Washington. However, Brady did take photographs at Bull Run. One observer claimed that Brady at Bull Run showed "more pluck than many of the officers and soldiers who were in the fight." He photographed the retreat and another witness pointed out that Brady "has fixed the cowards beyond the possibility of a doubt."

During the American Civil War Brady spent over $100,000 in obtaining 10,000 prints. He expected the government to buy the photographs when the war ended. When the government refused to do this he was forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy.

Congress granted Brady $25,000 in 1875 but he remained deeply in debt. Depressed by his financial situation, Matthew Brady became an alcoholic and died the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York on 15th January, 1896.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAPbrady.htm

Newspaper results at the time show the impact these photographs had on the public.

(1) The New York Times on an exhibition of photographs taken by Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner , James Gardner, George Barnard and Timothy O'Sullivan (21st July, 1862)

Brady's artists have accompanied the army on nearly all its marches, planting their sun batteries by the side of our Generals' more deathful ones, and taking towns, cities and forts with much less noise and vastly more expedition. The result is a series of pictures christened Incidents of War, and nearly as interesting as the war itself: for they constitute the history of it, and appeal directly to the great throbbing hearts of the north.

(2) After seeing the photographs taken by Alexander Gardner at of the battle at Antietam, the writer, Oliver Wendell Holmes recorded his views on the nature of war.

Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations. It is so nearly like visiting the battlefield to look over these views that all the emotions excited by the actual sight of the stained and sordid scene, stewed with rags and wrecks, come back to us, and we buried them in the recesses of our cabinet as we would have buried the mutilated remains of the dead they too vividly represented. The sight of these pictures is a commentary on civilization such as the savage might well triumph to show its missionaries.

(3) The New York Times on the photographs of Matthew Brady (20th October, 1862)

Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them on our dooryard and along the streets, he has done something very like it. It seems somewhat singular that the same sun that looked down on the faces of the slain, blistering them, blotting out from the bodies all the semblance to humanity, and hastening corruption, should have thus caught their features upon canvas, and given them perpetuity for ever.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...