Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Father of American Photojournalism

I guess I'm still on a history jag. At some point, I'll get back to photography of a more contemporary nature, maybe even some of my own.

So who was this guy (pictured left) they call the father of American photojournalism? Well, most historians credit Mathew Brady with that distinction.

Brady, as you probably already know, was most famous for photo-documenting the U.S. Civil War. But his portfolio was not limited to Civil War battle images. He was also a portrait photographer who captured the likenesses of many famous people of his era, albeit the majority of them Union and Confederate officers. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln posed in front of Brady's camera more than a few times. In fact, one of Brady's photos of Lincoln is still used on the $5 bill, another graced the Lincoln penny.

Unfortunately, much of Brady's work is lost. After the war, the majority of the glass, photographic plates he used to record America's most devastating war were sold and used in greenhouses. (Hmm... There's something poetic about that: Images recording the death and tragedy of war used as components for structures nurturing life. Sort of a swords to plowshares concept.)

Most people probably aren't aware that many of the images credited to Brady weren't actually snapped by Brady. I know I was surprised to learn this fact.

Mathew Brady, it seems, employed a team of photographers and assistants to photo-document scenes from the Civil War. Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, and Thomas C. Roche were the photographers he employed. Seventeen other men, from assistants to darkroom technicians, were also employed. Brady's field production crews were equipped with traveling darkrooms. For most of the war, Brady remained in Washington, D.C., organizing and managing the business side of photo-capturing the Civil War. Although Brady personally photographed the Battle of Bull Run--and was nearly captured while doing so--he visited few battlefields after that. This might have been due to Brady's deteriorating eyesight. A malady that began in the 1850s.

Sadly, the father of American photojournalism died alone and broke in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. (Wow! Photographers and other artists dying broke. How unusual.) It's estimated Brady lost over $100,000 producing the 10,000+ photographic plates his crews exposed while documenting the war: A rather large sum back in those days.


shaggy dog pix said...

Neat bit of history. Thanks.

April Berardi said...

wow- that is an incredible amount of money lost to process images...

poor guy.
this post is very uninspiring, jimmy. I almost want to quit this whole thing, now. If someone like him, could not survive on his work, how can I?


~April Berardi

ishootistguy said...

They can't all have happy endings, April. If it's any consolation, Brady is immortalized in the history of photography. A position few shooters attain.