Monday, January 3, 2011

Alexander Gardner, Matthew Brady, and the Dead at Antietam

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

There are about a zillion Civil War era pictures floating around out there. Since the invention of photography earlier in the nineteenth century, the notion of a war correspondent has taken on a whole new meaning.

Most pictures are pretty ordinary...a soldier or group of soldiers standing about displaying their weapons or relaxing in camp. Most are posed, and as far as I know, battle photographs are virtually non-existent.

But there is nothing ordinary about Alexander Gardner's Antietam series. The citizens of the United States certainly didn't think so. Gardner arrived at the battlefield shortly after September 17th, 1862 - just in time to photograph the grim work of war. Most of his shots were "stereographs" which means he took two images (with a special two-lens camera) of the same view to be shown through a special viewing device creating a 3-d image.

But here's the real kicker. His images were reproduced and spread throughout the states - where they became all the rage. Matthew Brady's gallery in New York City displayed Gardner's original images for public viewing - a showing that created quite the stir. Americans (civilians, anyway) had never really glimpsed the horrors of war in such a realistic fashion. For the first time, the war hit home. New Yorkers were shocked and appalled. The New York Times stated that Brady was able to "bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along streets, he has done something very like it…"

War photography, what most would consider part of our daily dose of the world beyond our immediate surroundings, is everywhere and readily available to all. This was not the case in 1862.



No comments:

Post a Comment