Photographer of the Day: Alexander Gardner

Alexander Gardner

b. 1821, d. 1882

Today, we talk about a legend from the American Civil War period. Gardner was one of the early photographers who made people question photographic “truth”, as the photographs he took of the civil war appear to be staged– because, well, they kinda had to be. Gardner’s process was wet-plate, which was kind of hard to execute (ouch, that pun,) on an active battle field. U feel me?

This image is the one most associated with his work:

Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter was one of many photographs featured in Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War, which was presented in two volumes. It is believed that Gardner and his assistants moved the body to this position and propped up the weapon, as a sign of his profession. Talk about morbid. Speaking of morbid: you could get this guy as a stereo image back in the day, y’know, for a realistic 3D viewing of a dead guy while sitting in your parlor room.

Even more morbid: I went to Gettysburg on a middle school trip, and one of my friends laid on the ground, just like the subject of Gardner’s image. Without knowing anything about it, I also posed like I was dead. I’ll have to find the photo of this, uh, charming occurrence, because it is a classic example of why I may  scare small children from time to time.

Gardner is closely associated with the photographer Mathew Brady, who actually inspired Gardner to become a photographer. After listening to Brady’s idea to photograph the war (Brady was blind at this point in his life,) Gardner used some connections to become the chief photographer under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Topographical Engineers. He was given the honorary title of captain and he shot (I laughed at this terrible pun,) many important battles of the Civil War, including the Battle of Antietam, Battle of Fredericksburg, Battle of Gettysburg, and the Siege of Petersburg. A lot of ‘burgs.

Shout out to field photographers who work in dangerous times.

That’s all for my crash course on Alexander Gardner. The next PotD will be a photographer who I just recently learned about, Robert Heinecken. And no, he has nothing to do with the beer.

Happy Shooting (that pun again…)

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