Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mathew Brady Civil War Photography

Madeleine has been working on an essay for her history class about Civil War photography and Matthew Brady in particular.  So of course being the helpful mother that I am, I pulled out some books that I thought might be helpful to her.  I often feel like kids these days don't know how to do research with, you know, actual books.  Madeleine tells me that they are mostly taught how to site websites or online information in bibliographies because that's what everyone uses for their papers.  I won't even go into how appalling I think this is!

I knew of Mathew Brady as being the most famous Civil War photographer- it turns out he never took the photographs himself but hired assistants. He simply "ran the show" so that any photograph where he is on site supervising or helping to set up the shot is credited to him.

A couple years ago I took a workshop and learned to make my own wet plate tintypes and ambrotypes. The process is beautiful but a bit temperamental and something that you need to practice to get a good knack for. The fact that these Civil War photographs were taken out in the field during battle conditions using this complex process makes them all the more impressive.

Apparently Brady had this dream of documenting the war and selling his images for collections and posterity. He did manage to sell to the U.S. Government but died in poverty. There was no market for his greatest project, for in the end people were so war-weary that they didn't want photographic reminders of that dark and sad time. Perhaps his dream was realized in a way in that so many of his photographs have become the iconic images that we think of for that time in American History.

Books listed:

Mathew Brady by Barry Pritzker 1992
(has large photographs and a nice biography of Brady)

The Visual Dictionary of the Civil War Dorling Kindersley Visual Dictionaries 2000
(These DK books are always filled with great pictures and bits of information.  There's even a whole page of Civil War photography for Madeleine.)

The American Heritage New History of The Civil War Bruce Catton and James M. McPherson 1996
(Giant book filled with drawings, maps, photographs, etc...  A good book to browse through on a rainy afternoon.)

Fields of Fury James M. McPherson 2002
(Has a nice feature of "Quick Facts" on each page.)

Photographing History The Career of Mathew Brady Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler 1977

The American Image Photographs from the National Archives, 1860-1960 Alan Trachtenberg 1979

War, Terrible War Joy Hakim 1994
(Would make a great textbook for kids.)

No comments:

Post a Comment