Photography and the American Civil War

Liz Luna
Apr 8, 2013 4:00PM

Featuring over 200 works, the Metropolitan Museum's new exhibition Photography and the American Civil War surveys the use of photography and the emergent importance of the camera during the Civil War.  Met Director Thomas Campbell says, “photography matured and flourished in surprising and unexpected ways" during the war, and it has influenced “generations of artists from Walker Evans in the 1930s to today.”  From Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou’s chilling photographs of the sick and wounded, used to teach medical school students, to 1860 campaign buttons with original tintype portraits of Abraham Lincoln and his competitor, the exhibition demonstrates how the photographic medium chronicled a watershed moment in American history, and also played a lesser-known but vital role in the advancement of the medical profession, as well as the mounting relationship between photography and the political sphere.

The exhibition is on view at the Met through September 2; it will subsequently travel to the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, South Carolina (September 27, 2013–January 5, 2014) and the New Orleans Museum of Art (January 31–May 4, 2014).

From top: Timothy H. O'Sullivan, Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July 1863; Unknown Artist, Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Company E, “Tom Cobb Infantry,” Thirty-eighth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, 1861–62 (Photo: Jack Melton); Reed Brockway Bontecou, Union Private John Parmenter, Company G, Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, June 21, 1865; Unknown Artist, after an 1860 carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady, Presidential Campaign Medal with Portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin, 1860; Unknown Artist, Sojourner Truth, “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance,” 1864. All images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, except where noted.

Liz Luna