It was in 1839 that a brand new technology was unveiled to the world. Photography enabled still shots to be taken for the first time, and the public went mad for it. The turn of the century saw yet even more innovation, with scientists and artists alike arguing the practicalities of the new invention.
Many questions were raised around the ethics of photography and, in particular, what subjects would be depicted. Scholars couldn’t decide whether they wanted to accept the medium of photography as art or even allow photographers to work under the same parameters as artists.
How Civil War Photos Affected The Conflict
The Civil War photos created the first mass-market rise for photography. Although earlier conflicts were photographed, the 1861 conflict set the foundations for capitalizing on the rising artform. Early photographers bravely entered the battlefields with cameras in hand to document what they saw first-hand.
The visual history of conflicts no longer suffered the artistic interpretation of one single individual. Photography now allowed for true-to-life mass marketable imagery to be produced, and the world hasn’t looked back since. It also allowed husbands, wives, and stricken family members to brandish a sentimental keepsake while their loved ones were fighting the war.
The horrific, fighting Civil War photos were captured and introduced to the public for the first time. Exhibits sprung up in Washington and New York to house the increasing number of photographs sent back from the war zone.
Newspapers and magazines also adopted the printing of Civil War photos pretty quickly, which further brought home the realities of civil conflict.
The First Photographers
Matthew Brady was amongst the first people to pioneer the art of photography in the 1850s. He’s now a well-known and celebrated photographer, but he was a dedicated photojournalist who would use the medium to change photographic history forever during the American Civil War.
He employed a group of photographic assistants, and he sent them up and down the country to take pictures of what they saw. The experience of capturing poignant real-life Civil War photos was one of modernity and set the foundations for future endeavors in the field.
The New York Times wrote of Brady’s New York exhibit:
“Mr Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”
The Commercialisation Of Civil War Photos
The art of photography wasn’t new during the conflict years, and it had been around for over twenty years. Modernization of the industrial complex brought about a lot of innovation during the mid to late 1800s and saw new techniques and commercialization explode just before the Civil War.
The ensuing chaos would prove to be the perfect vehicle to spark the nation’s interests and bind the medium of photography to the world of history forever.
The president of the Center for Civil War Photography in Abilene, Texas, Bob Zeller, stated that “tintype,” a metal image that’s printed on glass, is responsible for the mass production of small photographs. The families of loved ones sentimentally kept these during the Civil War in glass cases.
“It was their most visceral, closest link to their loved ones. For girlfriends or wives at home, the only thing they had was the ambrotype.”
Recent Criticism And Colorized Civil War Photos
In recent years some of the most famous Civil War photographers have been criticized for staging their photographs. Current evidence suggests that some Civil War photographs aren’t what you might think. The corpses of the dead appear to have been moved to create images of a more graphic nature.
Some have spoken out to defend the wartime photographs, including Zeller, who thinks that the brave young men taking the pictures didn’t have the time to stage pictures. Being in an active conflict zone posed its own set of threats, with early photographers single-handedly carrying entire wagons full of equipment and chemicals.
“Each time they moved, they had to secure bottles of chemicals and plate.”
“Each time they stopped, it had to be level.”
Photographers also battled incoming artillery fire as soldiers did so needed to be trained appropriately for the job. Corrupted mercenaries and bandits were rife during this period, so early photographers had to be on the lookout or risk losing their lives constantly.
A Modern Day Reflection
Not only did wartime photography spark the interest of millions around the world, but it also brought to light for the first time the atrocities suffered at the hand of the Confederates. People from America, in particular, we’re able to see the devastation of war first hand.
It caused a revolution of sorts; no longer would people blindly follow political parties and ideologies that didn’t work for them. They now hand evidence that showed the realities of a war that nobody wanted in the first place.
Of course, photography alone can’t stop the misguided ideologies of man from taking center stage, but at least it can frame the picture in a way that makes us all think twice before voting in favor of war.