War photography did not begin with the American Civil War–Roger Fenton’s images of the Crimean War are recognized as the first images around a battle. I say ‘around a battle’ because photographic processes were too slow to record actual fighting. The images of the Crimean War and Civil War are portraits and the ruin after the fighting. The motivations to photograph the Civil War were as varied as the photographers behind the camera. Some saw the historic value, others saw monetary value. Most images are timeless documents of the conflict–others are manipulated documents of the conflict. Even Roger Fenton’s most famous image from the Crimean War may have been manipulated.
The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is upon us and as the dates of notable moments and battles arrive, there are many commemorative articles. Slate had some excellent articles about the anniversary of the battle at Antietam–one article highlighted the photographs taken by Alexander Gardner.
Gardner was one of many photographers who photographed the war. Many were hired by Matthew Brady and most, like Gardner, continued their photography well after the Civil War ended. We’ll talk more about that later.