Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book review - Mr. Lincoln's Cameraman: Mathew B. Brady.

To finish up the two books I was recently lent, I read Mr. Lincoln's Camera Man: Mathew B. Brady by Roy Meredith. The version that I read was printed by Dover Publishing in 1974.

While not an in depth biography, I found Mr. Meredith's work to be fascinating nonetheless. Knowing a fair amount about the Civil War I had often heard of Mathew Brady and had even seen a decent number of his photographs. What I didn't know was the story behind the lens.

Mathew Brady was a world-famous photographer well before the Civil War broke out. He had won a most prestigious award at the 1851 World's Fair in London. That merely cemented his reputation though. Everyone who was anyone had their likeness taken by Mr. Brady. Many of those prewar photographs are included in the book along with the stories behind them.

Brady was at the height of his fame when the Civil War erupted. With his business prospering he was in a position to try and become the main recorder of the war. He largely succeeded. Many of his iconic Civil War images are included in the book along with lesser known prints. All are deeply interesting.

After the war Brady attempted to continue in business but his finances were in severe disarray. The government contract that he had expected did not come through. Competitors were multiplying. His health was failing. Until the end though Mathew Brady never lost the drive and vision that made him perhaps the most well-known photographers in American history.

Whether interested in the Civil War, American history, or photography most readers will find this inside look at Mr. Lincoln's Cameraman extremely interesting. Brady's pictures helped make Abraham Lincoln president, Roy Meredith's book helps bring Mathew Brady into focus. I cannot recommend it enough.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Book review - Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War.

Unlike most of the books I review, I do not own this one. It and the next book were both lent to me by a friend.

Alexander Gardner was a photographer during the mid-1800's. He began his career working for the famous Mathew Brady and then struck out on his own. The pictures he took during the Civil War made him a household name. After the war Gardner was in need of funds, the result was this book.

The version of Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War that I read was a reproduction of the original work that was put out by Dover Publications in 1959. With the exception of an introduction and an index, the work remained as it was when it was initially published.

There are 100 "plates" or pictures in the book with accompanying descriptions. While I had seen many of the photographs previously I found the descriptions to be interesting. Many of the pictures that I had seen were presented in other works as something different that Mr. Gardner labeled them. Also of note was the famous faked photograph from Gettysburg. In Mr. Gardner's book the same body is seen twice - once in an open area and once in a sharp-shooter's nest. The supposition has always been that Mr. Gardner moved the soldier in order to get a more dramatic shot in the second photograph. After comparing the pictures I would have to agree that something is fishy.

There's nothing fishy about this fine collection of Civil War pictures though. Whether one is an avid Civil War buff or is just wanting to take a glimpse into the past this book is well worth your time.