Mathew Brady was one of the most noted 19th century photographers from America, born on 18 May 1822 in Warren County, New York. He was notorious for his celebrity portraits and American Civil War documentation. He is also credited as the pioneer of photojournalism.
Brady initially ran a campaign to warn parents to take the photos of their children who were soldiers before its too late, however later he thought of photographically recording the Civil War. First he took permission to be on the site of the battle by writing an application to President Abraham Lincoln. The President allowed him but with the condition that Brady financed all his expenditures on his own. He took his photography studio to the battlefield. At the Bull Run Battle, Brady took his first famous photos of the conflict. He appointed Timothy H. O’Sullivan, George N Barnard, Alexander Gardner, William Pywell, James Gardner, Thomas C. Roche, and 17 other people who were provided with a mobile darkroom and were asked to photograph Civil War scenes. At this point in time, Brady resided in Washington, D.C. and he allocated work to his assistants instead. This could be because in 1850s, Brady’s eye sight weakened. In 1862, he opened an exhibition of photos from the Antietam Battle in New York’s gallery. The show was named The Dead of Antietam. Many images were new to America since they were graphic photos of corpses. For the first time Americans witnessed war realities through Brady’s work. Through his assistants, Mathew Brady was able to take several thousand photographs of the American Civil War of which some were made available at the Library of Congress, and the National Archives. These images act as a pictorial reference of the history of the war. He was not able to take pictures of the major battle view since the photography equipments of that time weren’t much developed and cameras couldn’t capture things in motion. Soon people were so tired of the war that they were no longer interested in these photos and Brady’s practice and popularity declined.
While the war was on, Mathew Brady created 10,000 photographic plates for 100,000 dollars. He expected the American government to buy his photos of war but since they didn’t, Brady was forced into bankruptcy. He also had to sell his studio in New York. The war photographer soon became extremely lonely because of his financial loss, wife’s death, and weak eyesight. He died from an accident in New York’s Presbyterian Hospital’s charity division in 1896. After, his death Brady’s nephew from his wife’s family took over his legacy of photographic business.
In his lifetime, Brady took photos of eighteen Presidents of America, from William McKinley to John Quincy Adams. To this date, the images that Brady’s assistants and he took of the war are an important account of the Civil War. These images helped people and historians understand that era in a much better way.
Brady took pictures and portraits of several senior officers from the war, such as Don Carlos Buell, John Gibbon, David Hunter, Irvin McDowell, George Meade, George Stoneman, David Farragut, and many more. Brady also photographed those from Confederate area, like Stonewall Jackson, Lord Lyons, James Henry Hammond, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis. Mathew Brady took pictures of Abraham Lincoln at many instances. These images have been used on Lincoln penny and 5 dollar bill.
Brady produced more than seven thousand photos. Some of his images were lost and others were preserved.