America Through the Lens: Photographers Who Changed the Nation

America Through the Lens: Photographers Who Changed the Nation

by Martin W. Sandler

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Overview

America Through the Lens: Photographers Who Changed the Nation by Martin W. Sandler

"If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug around a camera."-Lewis Hine

A stunning view of America as captured by groundbreaking photographers

American history is punctuated by defining moments-some proud, some tragic, some beautiful. Photography has made it possible for these moments to be captured and shared with the public. As the craft has evolved from unwieldy glass negatives to digital imagery, the photographs themselves have changed the way we see the world.

From Mathew Brady's startling Civil War photographs to NASA's stunning images of the universe, America Through the Lens by Martin W. Sandler highlights twelve photographers whose work has truly changed the nation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466869097
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 04/22/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 8 MB
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Martin W. Sandler is an award-winning author of many books for young readers, including The Story of Photography, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book, and Vaqueros. He is also a television producer. A five-time Emmy winner and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, he lives in Massachusetts with his wife.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Mathew B. Brady (1823–1896)

Changing the Way We View Our World

"A spirit in my feet said 'go,' and I went."

With that simple statement Mathew B. Brady explained why he had risked both his life and his fortune to give America a photographic record of the Civil War. Brady had already changed the way people viewed their world by becoming a pioneer in the field of photography. Soon he would change the nation's attitudes toward war.

Born in 1823 in Warren County, New York, Brady became fascinated with paintings as a child and decided he wanted to be an artist. An ambitious young man, he was able, at the age of sixteen, to gain an apprenticeship with the well-known painter William Page.

On a fateful day in 1839, Page introduced his apprentice to a fellow artist and friend, Samuel F. B. Morse. A professor of painting and design in New York, Morse was a man of many interests and had just completed his first invention. He called it the telegraph, and it would revolutionize the world of communications.

But Morse already had another new interest. He had recently returned from Paris where he had met with Louis Daguerre. The Frenchman had just astounded the prestigious French Academy by demonstrating his success in capturing permanent images through the lens of a camera, something that inventors and scientists had been trying to accomplish for hundreds of years. Daguerre had shown Morse how to produce such pictures, which he called daguerreotypes, and now Morse was starting a class in the astounding new process.

To Brady, daguerreotypes were miraculous. There before him was a picture of a person — not an interpretation drawn by an artist but an exact likeness of the individual. Young as he was, Brady realized that this new invention, which would come to be called photography, would change the world. He enrolled in Morse's class.

Brady quickly mastered techniques of the new daguerrotype process. He was so adept that he soon learned all that Morse could teach him. On his own, he began experimenting with ways to produce the most interesting pictures possible.

It was not easy. In those days people had to sit before the camera for as long as thirty minutes in order for an image to take. And they had to remain perfectly still. Head clamps were often used to keep subjects from moving. Because artificial lighting had not been perfected, the earliest daguerreotypes were taken outdoors in full sunlight. Many of those who sat for photographs came away with a sunburn and only a single image for their trouble, since daguerrotypes could not be reproduced.

Yet almost everyone felt that the painful experience was worth it. For the first time, people have exact likenesses of themselves to share with their relatives and friends. And most could afford it. Unlike artists' portraits, which were so costly that only the wealthy could have them made, daguerreotypes were relatively inexpensive.

Soon there were daguerreotype studios in almost every city in the United States. Most of them were run by unskilled photographers who wanted only to earn a living from their work. But Mathew B. Brady took a different approach.

Rather than opening his own studio immediately, he spent almost five years perfecting his skills and reading everything that had been published on the new art. He consulted with scientists, seeking ways to improve the chemical aspects of the daguerreotype process. He took scores of pictures, experimenting with different types of poses and props that would allow him to create images that were far more appealing than those being turned out by most of the other early photographers. One of his major innovations was the introduction of a huge skylight as part of his photographic setup, which made it possible to take pictures as effectively indoors as in full sunlight.

Finally, in 1844, at the age of twenty-four, Brady opened his own establishment. He rented rooms on the top floor of a building at the busy corner of Broadway and Tenth Street in New York City and announced he was ready for business. It was more than just a studio, for there was also a gallery where a large number of Brady's daguerreotypes were displayed.

Brady understood from the beginning that if he was to outdistance his competitors he could not go it alone; rather, he would need to put together the best team of camera operators, chemists, retouchers, colorists, and other assistants he could assemble. He took very few of the pictures himself, leaving that to the camera operators. Instead, he coordinated the talents of all his assistants and concentrated on the more creative aspects of setting up the pictures, particularly that of determining the most interesting angles from which the photographs were to be shot.

Brady's gallery caused a sensation. People flocked there to view the pictures on display and to have their likenesses recorded. Many famous political leaders and celebrities also came to have their pictures taken.

Buoyed by his success, Brady soon opened a second studio in Washington, D.C., where he would be even closer to the prominent political figures of his day. There he photographed every living president of the United States, from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley.

Unquestionably the most important person Brady photographed was Abraham Lincoln. He took his first picture of Lincoln during the 1860 presidential campaign, a time when the tall, gangly candidate was unknown to most Americans and was commonly portrayed as an ugly country bumpkin by cartoonists who supported his opponent. Brady photographed the future president just before he delivered an important speech at Cooper Union in New York. Aware of the importance of the picture, Brady used all his skills to produce an image that would present the candidate in the most appealing, dignified manner possible.

By this time, Brady had learned a brand-new photographic process, one that used a glass wet-plate negative. It was coated with a sticky substance, which meant that it had to be developed as soon as the picture was taken, before the substance dried. Although it had this drawback, it had a major advantage over the daguerreotype process: Many copies of a particular photograph could be reproduced from a wet-plate negative.

Delighted with the result of the portrait Brady had made, Lincoln had his campaign workers distribute the photograph throughout the country. When Lincoln won the election, he publicly declared that "Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president." Brady took many of the best-known photos of Lincoln, including the one used as the model for the Lincoln penny.

If Mathew B. Brady had never taken another picture after 1860, he still would have gone down in history as a photography giant, the man who gave Americans a new way of viewing their world. But in 1861 the Civil War erupted into the most tragic conflict in the history of the United States.

Brady made an important decision. He would travel to the Civil War camps and battlefields and give the nation a photographic record of the war. With President Lincoln's permission, Brady organized a team of more than twenty photographers to help him. He supplied the team with a huge array of cameras, chemicals, and other equipment, and with horsedrawn wagons to carry the gear.

Brady and his photography corps captured thousands of images of soldiers as they relaxed in camp, drilled during periods between battles, and operated some of the largest weapons the world had ever known. Field hospitals, long lines of supply wagons, acres of piled-up munitions, military trains, hastily erected bridges, telegraph corpsmen, nurses and doctors — everything that had to do with the war was photographed. Mathew Brady and his team were the first photographers to record a major event in the nation's history.

However, the most telling of all the images were those of the thousands from both armies who lay dead and dying on the battlefields. When the war had begun, the North and the South had each believed that it would be a brief conflict. Many had cheered on their departing troops as if they were embarking upon a great adventure. Brady and his photographers changed all that. Their haunting pictures disclosed the incredible price in human lives paid by both sides.

The photos were sent straight from the battlefields to be displayed in Brady's studios, where they made the horror of war inescapable. The nation was shocked. "Mr. Brady," stated one newspaper, "has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war." Thanks to Mathew B. Brady, Americans would never look at war in the same way again.

CHAPTER 2

William Henry Jackson (1843–1942)

Preserving Our Natural Treasures

"He was one of the most important figures of the late nineteenth century."

That is how noted historian Edwin Rozwenc described the accomplishments of William Henry Jackson. Born in Kesseville, New York, in 1843, Jackson began his career as an apprentice photographer. He was only fifteen, and photography itself was less than twenty years old.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Jackson joined the Union army and spent the next three years drawing maps and sketching enemy campsites for his unit. When he left the service in 1863, he went to work in a photographic studio in Burlington, Vermont. Three years later, brokenhearted after his engagement to a young woman fell apart, the always restless Jackson decided to change his life completely by trying his luck in the West.

For the next two years he drifted from place to place and from job to job in the still vastly unsettled western territories. He worked first as a guard on a wagon train, then as a carpenter and farmhand, and finally as an art tutor. In 1868, tired of drifting, Jackson finally settled down in Omaha, Nebraska, where he opened his own photography studio.

It was an exciting time in Nebraska. The Union Pacific, one of two companies involved in building the nation's first transcontinental railroad, was laying hundreds of miles of track through the territory. Anxious to document its progress, the company hired Jackson to photograph the tracklayers and other workers, the trains, and all the activities that were part of the most difficult and ambitious construction project that had ever been undertaken in America. For more than a year, Jackson followed the building of the railroad with his camera, producing pictures that impressed all who saw them.

One of those who was particularly taken with the photographs was Ferdinand V. Hayden, an accomplished scientist. Hayden had been appointed the leader of a government expedition formed to survey, map, and provide geological information about vast areas of the West that were still largely unknown to most U.S. citizens. His task was to lead his expedition into Wyoming's Yellowstone region, one of the most rugged and unexplored areas of the western territories. After seeing the railroad pictures, Hayden asked Jackson to join his team as the expedition's official photographer. Jackson's acceptance of that position was the turning point in his life and career.

In 1871 the Hayden party entered the region named for the Yellowstone River that flowed through it, aware that very few people other than Native Americans had ever set foot there. Those early explorers who had been in the area told amazing stories of majestic, snowcapped mountains from which flowed enormous waterfalls that cascaded thousands of feet to the earth below. Within these mountains, said eyewitnesses, were hundreds of canyons containing bizarre rock formations.

Even more astounding were the tales of scores of natural geysers that sent fountains of water exploding high into the air. There were also reports of dozens of springs in which boiling water bubbled continuously. The stories were entertaining, but few who heard them believed that they were true. At best they had to be wild exaggerations. But Hayden and his team quickly discovered the stories were not false. They weren't exaggerated. As the men ventured deeper into the area and looked around them, they realized that, if anything, the early descriptions had been understated. For Jackson, in particular, the first encounter with the wonders of Yellowstone was an emotional experience. He understood that seeing these marvels was one thing; photographing them in a way that did justice to their splendor was something else again.

While photography had come a long way since Mathew Brady had introduced the medium to America, taking a picture was still a difficult task. The cameras were large and bulky. In order to keep them perfectly still while capturing an image, a photographer had to mount them on a tripod. Even more demanding was the process of preparing and developing the large glass negatives the cameras used.

Like all photographers of his day, Jackson had to prepare each of his negatives himself by pouring a sticky, light-sensitive chemical solution over them. These so-called wet plates had to be used quickly and then developed within minutes after the picture was taken or they would dry out and the picture would be ruined. This made picture-taking difficult under any circumstances. Preparing a plate, taking a picture, and then developing it on the spot in a vast, rugged area such as Yellowstone was challenging almost beyond belief.

As he traveled throughout the region, Jackson carried with him three cameras, several tripods, boxes of chemicals, and a portable developing tent. Heaviest of all the equipment were the huge glass negatives, which were sixteen by twenty inches. Like all his materials, they were transported on the back of a mule and hauled up and down mountains, across the floors of deep canyons, and throughout the areas where the geysers, hot springs, and other natural wonders were located.

Jackson was a tireless worker who spent several hours each day scouting for the scene he wished to photograph, setting up his equipment, and preparing his negatives. He was also a perfectionist. Even when perched precariously on a ledge jutting out from the top of a mountain, he waited patiently for just the right light to capture the image he sought. Most of the time he was rewarded with the masterful photograph he hoped for. Other times the weather deteriorated to such an extent that, after waiting for so long, he was unable to take even one picture. There were disasters as well. More than once a mule carrying glass plates slipped on the treacherous terrain as Jackson and the animal made their way back down the mountain. Jackson would watch in horror as the plates came loose from the straps that held them and shattered into pieces.

But he would not allow himself to be discouraged. He took hundreds of photographs that were remarkable not only for their rich variety and awe-inspiring content, but for their artistic quality. Fortunately for Jackson, he was not the only artist on the expedition. Hayden's team also included Thomas Moran, one of the nation's most accomplished landscape painters. Jackson and Moran quickly became friends, and soon they were helping each other in their work.

Moran provided Jackson with insights about how best to compose his photographs and helped him find the best spots from which to take his pictures. In turn, Jackson provided Moran with photographs that the artist used as the basis for many of the oil paintings that he did of the region.

Thanks to his own abilities, Moran's help, and his willingness to persist through trial and error, Jackson discovered the most effective ways of capturing the natural wonders that few had ever seen, and established himself as a master of the still-infant art of landscape photography. In the process he provided the documentary evidence that what had long been dismissed as wild rumors about Yellowstone were really true.

By the beginning of 1872 the members of the Yellowstone expedition had completed their official work, but as far as Ferdinand Hayden was concerned, another vital task lay directly ahead. From the first moment he had set foot in the region, he had been convinced that this was an area that had to be preserved in its natural state forever. His goal was to persuade Congress to pass a bill establishing Yellowstone as the country's first national park.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "America Through the Lens"
by .
Copyright © 2005 Martin W. Sandler.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Cover,
Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Introduction,
MATHEW B. BRADY: Changing the Way We View Our World,
WILLIAM HENRY JACKSON: Preserving Our Natural Treasures,
FRANCES BENJAMIN JOHNSTON: Documenting a Rise from Slavery,
JACOB RIIS: Cleaning Up the Slums,
LEWIS HINE: Letting Children Be Children,
EDWARD S. CURTIS: Immortalizing the Native Americans,
JAMES VAN DER ZEE: Revealing African-American Achievement,
DOROTHEA LANGE: Bringing Relief to Millions,
MARION POST WOLCOTT: Introducing America to Americans,
MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE: Celebrating Industrious America,
TONI FRISSELL: Changing Attitudes About African Americans,
NASA AND NOAA: Changing Our View of the Universe,
Further Reading,
Photo Credits,
Index,
Copyright,

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