Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mathew Brady

Mathew Brady was born in 1822 in Warren County, New York. Around the age of seventeen he began studying photography under many different teachers, including Samuel F. B. Morse (who invented the single wire telegraph). Discovering a passion for photography, as well as natural talent for it, he had his own studio by 1844. He marrie Juliette Handy in 1851, though he never had any children. Most of his photographic career was dedicated to photographing and documenting the Civil War, though he started out mainly shooting portraits of famous Americans, and this is what brought on his original fame and success.

Photographic work and my response (I think I go into the "my response" part a bit more on my evaluation of his individual pictures):
Mathew Brady is well known for his portraits of famous Americans (including Ulysses S. Grant, George Custer, Stonewall Jackson, and 18 of the 19 presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley). I liked almost every single one of his portraits, because they are all very focused on the subject, very simple, and very interesting. His subjects seem to have a strong connection with the camera (and therefore, I felt like I had a stronger connection with the image), and I like that in most of his portraits the subject is looking directly at the camera.

Mathew Brady is also renowned for his photographs of the Civil War. Despite limited funds, warnings from friends, danger, etc. Mathew Brady was determined to document it, saying, "I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go,' and I went." He hired approximately 20 men to help him in this endevor, giving each a traveling darkroom (I've got to get myself one of thoes...) and sending them to take many photos for him. His photos of the Civil War offer a very blunt and brutal version of war. Images from his "Battle of Antietam" exhibition were almost horrifyingly violent and graphic, presenting a side of the war that America had not often seen before. I personally don't enjoy seeing really violent or depressing photos, I still think that it was important for Brady to take them, to document the "real" side of the war. Unfortunately, apparently not everyone feels that way, and toward the end of the Civil War Americans were generally so tired of war, and despite being once praised for his work Brady hit a low point as people stopped buying his photographs. This certainly upset him, not only because he was financially insecure but also because his work in photographing the Civil War had meant a lot to him. He said, "No one will ever know what I went through to secure those negatives. The world can never appreciate it. It changed the whole course of my life." Mathew Brady eventually died in Presbyterian Hospital at 5 o'clock on January 15, 1969.

His images and my responses:

I really like Brady's style of portraits - they are all very clean and simple. It allows you to take time to focus on the actual person rather than be worried about what is going on around them, but isn't boring in the slightest. Also, this photo is of Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross.

A photograph of one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln (random trivia fact: Mathew Brady's portraits of Lincoln are used on the five dollar bill and the penny). I love the simplicity of this picture. I think that being able to take a very traditional and simple portrait (leaving out all the unnecessary whistles and bells) but still making a captivating photograph was one of Brady's greatest skills. While I do think that part of the reason his very simple portraits remain interesting is because his subjects are usually very well known, I also believe that Brady was very careful about his portraits - they look as though they've been thoughtfully planned out (as opposed to "point and click" portraits, which don't work nearly as well or have the same amount of thought and care put into them).

At first I was a bit hesitant to put some of Brady's war pictures on my blog, simply because they're so violent, graphic, and sad, but then I realized that that's what he was after. He wanted to show the general public of America the real side of war, not some cheesy, watered down interpretation of it. Photographs like this one are shocking and unpleasant, but I think they also communicate with whoever looks at them, and that that is a very important part of photography.

Again, Brady shows the brutal side of war. I think this is another good example of how Brady's photography communicates. If you show this kind of a picture to someone, you can be sure it will prompt a reaction.

A slightly less disturbing image from Brady's documentation of the civil war. I think I prefer Brady's images with people in them a bit more (dead or alive) because I think that they are easier to "connect" with, but I also like this one, because I think the absence of people works well for this particular image. It conveys a sort of sense of loss, and stillness, because the scene looks like it's been put on hold - it seems like it should be full of busy, purposeful people but instead it's empty.
(EDIT: okay, so that last picture seems overly indecisive about when it's going to show up - sometimes I can see it on my blog, sometimes I can't, so just in case here's a link to it: )


Mr. Patteson said...

Emma, this is excellent. Very thoughtful. It's worth mentioning that these war images caused particularly strong reactions because the Civil War was pretty much the first major conflict that was photographed at all. People had literally never seen anything like these battlefield images.

DOGS RULE said...

Gah! i can barely right that much about something i care about! no offense mr. patteson i <3 photo.... not photographers. they remeind me how inadaquate i am in photo.