Mathew B. Brady is the most famous photographer of the Civil War. Although best known for his photographs of the war, Brady had established himself as one of the country’s foremost photographers long before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in 1861.
The youth of Mathew Brady
Born in 1823 or 1824 in Warren County, New York, near Lake George, Brady moved to New York around 1839. That year, Frenchman Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre unveiled to the world the first form of practical photography and salable – a photograph on a silver plate known as a daguerreotype.
Brady said he learned the process of making a daguerreotype in classes taught by inventor Samuel FB Morse, who knew Daguerre personally and helped bring the daguerreotype to America, where it spread like wildfire. .
Brady opens photo gallery in New York
In 1844, Brady opened his “Daguerrean Miniature Gallery” on Broadway. With a strong sense of self-promotion, Brady immediately began to stand out from dozens of other New York daguerreotype photographers, winning the top prize for a daguerreotype at the American Institute’s annual fair that same year.
He also began to take and exhibit daguerreotype portraits of famous Americans and his lavishly appointed gallery featured his National Portrait Gallery. In 1849, Brady opened a gallery in Washington, DC, to expand his business and gain closer access to the country’s political leaders.
As new technology advanced photography from daguerreotypes to the glass plate negative process in the 1850s, Brady helped lead the way. Easily reproducible negatives brought mass marketing to photography in the form of card photographs called business cards and three-dimensional stereo views.
In February 1860, when rising Northern political star Abraham Lincoln first visited New York City, he had his portrait taken at Brady’s Gallery. Lincoln’s business card sold by the thousands.
Brady captures the civil war
Brady was eager to capture Civil War photographs and stereograms from the start.
“My wife and my more conservative friends had taken a dim view of this shift from commercial affairs to pictorial war correspondence, and I can only describe the fate that knocked me down by saying that, like Euphorion, I felt I had to go. A spirit in my feet said ‘Go’ and I’m gone, ‘he told an interviewer in 1891 with his typical dramatic flair.
When the Union Army advanced into Virginia in July 1861, Brady followed it. But he returned with no image of the battlefield. He was forced to flee to Washington with the entire army when it was routed in the Battle of First Bull Run.
In 1862, after his Washington gallery director Alexander Gardner captured shocking and gruesome photos of American soldiers who died as they fell on the Antietam battlefield, Brady’s exhibition in his New York gallery. York, “The Dead of Antietam,” drew large crowds.
Brady’s ambitious efforts often exceeded his business acumen, and he was often in financial difficulty. This may have prompted Gardner to quit Brady’s job and open his own gallery in Washington in May 1863.
Gardner took with him many negatives of the “Incidents of War” of 1861-1862, including all of Antietam’s images. Key Brady photographers, including James Gibson and Timothy O’Sullivan, also joined Gardner.
Who took the photos of Mathew Brady?
Brady is unique among war photographers in that some books give him credit for taking almost all Civil War photos while other books claim he took no photos because of his poor eyesight.
The truth lies somewhere in between. Brady’s Gallery produced and sold Civil War photos by the hundreds, as did Gardner and other photographers. Like any visually impaired person, Brady wore glasses. But he left much if not all of the camera work to his assistants.
Yet Brady was in the field with the military at least once during each war year and was often intimately involved in the composition of photos, if only because he posed himself in more than 30 years. images.
Brady organized and financed his gallery’s expeditions, participated frequently, and also negotiated arrangements to photograph key leaders, such as his famous 1865 photographs of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond just days after his surrender.
In that sense, a photograph of Brady, like a Steven Spielberg movie, is something clearly attributed to him even though he didn’t sensitize the glass plates, load the cameras, and pull the lens caps to expose the negatives.
After the war Brady continued to operate a gallery in Washington until the early 1890s. In 1875 he gained some relief from his chronic money problems when the United States government purchased the negatives and prints from the Civil War still in his possession for $ 25,000. These images are now kept at the National Archives.
In 1895, now 70, Brady’s health began to decline after being struck by a horse-drawn carriage in Washington and fracturing his ankle. He recovered enough to move to New York City and begin preparing an illustrated lecture of his Civil War photos for a presentation at Carnegie Hall. It was scheduled for January 30, 1896, but was hospitalized and died on January 15. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington.
Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation, a biography of Robert Wilson, published by Bloomsbury (New York), 2013.
Mathew Brady and the image of history, by Mary Panzer, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1997.
Blue and Gray in Black and White: A History of Civil War Photography, by Bob Zeller, published by Praeger (Westport, Connecticut), 2005.
The Gazette of the National Portrait Gallery by Mathew Brady, an eight-page journal and timeline published by the Smithsonian Institution in conjunction with the 1996-97 gallery exhibition “Mathew Brady’s Portraits: Images as History, Photography as Art,” at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC , September 26. , 1997.