I just finished going through Mr. Lincoln’s Camera Man (1947, with later reprints) by Roy Meredith about the incredible Mr. Brady (1823-1896), which included some 350 images from the period. I had known something of Brady’s contributions before, but not the details.
This is a definite must read for the photographer interested in either Civil War history or the history of photography.
Here are some of the more interesting highlights:
–Brady is considered to be the Civil War photographer and was the first to attempt war photojournalism on a planned, systematic scale.
–He didn’t take all of the Civil War pictures–he hired some 20 photographers to work for him. They worked in teams and covered the various theaters of war. Brady, however, was the undisputed director of it all–and he funded the whole thing, too–so he generally gets the credit for the whole collection of images.
–The soldiers called his photographic wagons, “Whatsit” or Whatizzit” wagons as they were such a novelty.
–His Civil War and later images were primarily done using the wet plate process, which required the photographer to develop the glass plate within about ten minutes of the exposure (depending on temperature–warmer temps = less time, colder temps = more time).
–On several occasions he came under direct fire from the Confederate side and, once, very nearly was killed. (The other side may have thought his big Anthony camera on the tripod with its big, brass lens was a new, bizarre weapon.)
–His New York and Washington, D.C. photo galleries were tremendous successes during the late 1840s through the end of the Civil War and anybody who was anybody in high society went to him for a sitting. Especially coveted were his large (and expensive) “Imperial” prints (14×17 to 17×20).
–Also very popular, especially as the nation ramped up to war, were his “cartes des visites“, sort of an early photographic calling card. They were “massed produced” with a camera with six lenses and the soldiers going off to war piled in by the thousands to have them made for their loved ones.
–Brady married the daughter of a Washington, D.C. lawyer (and sort of an adopted daughter of Andrew Jackson), Julia Handy, who was extremely supportive of his career and helped maintain their contacts in the nations highest social circles. It was a blow to Brady when she died in 1887.
–The “B” as Brady’s middle initial doesn’t stand for anything–it was there for appearances only.
–He practiced a bit of 19th century “photobombing“–you can see Brady in a number of his images of troops in the field.
–You’ll often see the “Brady chair” in many of Brady’s photographs. This was actually Lincoln’s chair when the latter was a representative from Illinois and was a gift to Brady. It was used for many famous sittings over the years.
–If you have ever cracked open a high school or university history textbook you have likely seen his photographs–especially those of Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, some of the gruesome post-battle Civil War scenes, and the hanging of the John Wilkes Booth co-conspirators (which included a woman, by the way).
–His biggest “missed” shot: The surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox Court House. He did, however, make images of the McLean House and the empty rooms after the fact. He just didn’t get word with enough notice to get to the site on time.
–One of his images of Lincoln was used on the five dollar bill.
–In later years, his eyesight began to fail him (along with his finances). The vision loss had to be maddening for a man who devoted his life to the visual arts.
–Brady, a man who always walked quickly about town, was hit by a runaway horse cart, suffered some severe injuries from which he never really recovered, and he died penniless in 1896 (when my own grandfather was five years old!). A sad fate for a man who contributed so much to the recording of the great persons and great events of his time. Continue reading