Photography and the American Civil War

Overview

Six hundred thousand lives were lost between 1861 and 1865, making the conflict between North and South the nation’s deadliest war. If the “War Between the States” was the test of the young republic’s commitment to its founding precepts, it was also a watershed in photographic history, as the camera recorded the epic, heartbreaking narrative from beginning to end—providing those on the home front, for the first time, with immediate visual access to the horrors of the ...

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Overview

Six hundred thousand lives were lost between 1861 and 1865, making the conflict between North and South the nation’s deadliest war. If the “War Between the States” was the test of the young republic’s commitment to its founding precepts, it was also a watershed in photographic history, as the camera recorded the epic, heartbreaking narrative from beginning to end—providing those on the home front, for the first time, with immediate visual access to the horrors of the battlefield.

Photography and the American Civil War features both familiar and rarely seen images that include haunting battlefield landscapes strewn with bodies, studio portraits of armed Confederate and Union soldiers (sometimes in the same family) preparing to meet their destiny, rare multi-panel panoramas of Gettysburg and Richmond, languorous camp scenes showing exhausted troops in repose, diagnostic medical studies of wounded soldiers who survived the war’s last bloody battles, and portraits of both Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg (1863), this beautifully produced book features Civil War photographs by George Barnard, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and many others.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Images as vast and as haunting as their subjects comprise the bulk of this collection, which accompanies a new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Moving in roughly chronological order through the Civil War years, Met photography curator Rosenheim attentively argues that the rise of popular photography coincided with the onset of the Civil War to signify the beginning of the modern era. Examining the use of war images in newspapers and political campaigns, the sentimental obsession over portraiture by soldiers and their families, and the national mourning enacted through mass images, Rosenheim weaves the rhetorical and material realities of the war years by attaching them to the photographic image. While his explanations of changes in photographic technology and methodology are of interest primarily to specialists, the majority of the text is gracefully directed toward the images themselves. Grandiose landscapes, macabre and sobering images of the wounded, portraits startlingly bare in their sentiment—the hundreds of images carry the heft of history. The Civil War has received plenty of attention in popular publications and, increasingly, in serious academic contexts; the bald reality captured in these diverse photographs, however, manages still to add an affecting contribution to the discussion. Color illus. (May)
New York Review of Books
“Splendid . . . a wonderful enhancement of the show itself.”—New York Review of Books
Modern Art Notes - Tyler Green
“This is now the definitive source for our visual knowledge of the war and especially of its participants. Rosenheim’s focus on portraiture of soldiers humanizes long-familiar post-battlefield images of bloating corpses. His writing is crisp and full of detail. Best of all, the catalogue doesn’t just recount the photography of the war, it suggests how photography of the Civil War has influenced American art ever since.”—Tyler Green, Modern Art Notes
Library Journal
In presenting his companion to the current exhibit of the same title at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (through Sept. 2, 2013), Rosenheim (curator, photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art) aims to go beyond the traditional Civil War coffee-table book by illustrating how photography was an important tool during the war, especially for the Northern population. In fact, he makes clear that his book “is not a history of the Civil War.” His considerable text, along with the 200-plus photographs, shows how photography was used for propaganda, recruitment, and in aiding the treatment of wounded soldiers. The chapters move by themes, often out of chronological order, e.g. Chapter 1 is “The Dead of Antietam,” followed by a chapter on “Photography Before the War.” A later chapter on “Collecting the Wounded” contains images that may disturb readers new to such photographs. Throughout, Rosenheim explains how the development of photographic technology enabled photographers like Mathew Brady, who were good salesmen, to develop lucrative businesses during the war. Many of the images here are portraits (Rosenheim discusses why this is), while fewer feature battle and camp scenes. Although publicized as relating to this summer’s 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, that battle is not prominently featured.

Verdict This book will be of interest chiefly to those Civil War buffs interested in the conflict’s photographic record, whether they can get to the exhibit (next in Charleston, SC, Sept. 27–Jan. 5, and New Orleans, Jan. 31–May 4, 2014) or not.—Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300191806
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 287,404
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeff Rosenheim is curator in charge in the department of photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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