Mathew B. Brady Essay, Research Paper
Mathew B. Brady(1823-1896)Mathew Brady was an early photographer most famous for his work during the Civil War. He spent his whole life savings to train and equip a group of men for his expedition. He was granted special permission to follow around the Union army from camp to camp and from battle to battle documenting all aspects of life during the war. In the end nobody wanted Brady s pictures. The debts brought on by his project would plague him for the rest of his life. (W.J.G, 585) Mathew B. Brady was born about 1823 in Warren County, New York. (Webster s, 129) He was born into an Irish family and was brought up with little education. It is said that he had his own way of spelling the first part of his given name and he did not know what his middle initial represented. (W.J.G., 584) It could be because he was born with failing eyesight that he had trouble with his education. (May, 2) It is a kind of irony considering his chosen profession. Although he had no formal education he managed to scrape together a reasonable facsimile. (W.J.G., 584) His friend William Page, the painter, encouraged him to draw. In 1840, Page introduced him to Samuel Morse, who was experimenting with an early type of photography called the daguerreotype. He became instantly fascinated. (Webster s, 129) Samuel Morse taught Brady all about daguerreotypes and soon he was experimenting on his own. (Webster s, 129) While he experimented the technology was rapidly improving. In 1844 he became skilled enough to open his own professional studio in New York. Brady s photos grew in popularity and his studio attained much success. He entered his work in the annual exhibitions of the American Institute. In the years 1844-48 his work won the sliver medal at the exhibition and in 1849 he was awarded the first gold medal for a daguerreotype. (W.J.G., 585) At this time he began experimenting with producing tinted plates on ivory. (Webster s, 129) He won again at the 1850 World s Fair in London. (W.J.G., 585) Then in 1851 he was awarded another medal at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. The ivory plates became very popular and Brady s wealth grew considerably. (Webster s, 129) Sadly, in that very same year, his eyesight became too poor for him to operate a camera. He was forced to have assistants do the work for him. (Rudisill, 547) It did, however, seem that his goal of taking pictures of every famous American was within reach if he were to hire people and train them in the use of the camera. (Webster s, 129) In 1855 Brady brought over Alexander Gardener from England. Gardener was an expert in the wet-plate process that had just been invented by Scott-Archer. Soon Brady gave up the daguerreotype as a method of photography to turn to the new process. Around this time he opened two more studios in New York and left his old studio. Many famous people posed for him and he too, became famous. He married Julia Handy around 1860. Shortly thereafter, the Civil War broke out, and he felt it was his duty to document it. (W.J.G., 585)
His plan gained attention from President Lincoln, who had previously benefited from Brady s pictures in his presidential campaign, and Allan Pinkerton director of the secret service. (W.J.G., 585) He spent the $100,000 he had saved from his prosperous photography studio and invested it in training, equipping, and paying a group of people who he recruited to take pictures for him. His crew tramped through the battle fields of the war taking pictures of camp life, famous generals, and post battle scenes. The time it took to expose the film made taking live action battle pictures impossible. His pictures captured the horror of war and made people who were far away from the action realize what it was like. (May, 3,4) It was said that Brady s company took over 3,500 pictures by the end of the war. This collection would become the only complete collection of Civil War photos in existence. In 1870 Brady published Brady s National Photographic Collection of War Views and Portraits of Representative Men. In it he suggested that the government should buy his collection for a permanent exhibition. In 1875 the government did buy a set of 2000 pictures from his collection but for only $25,000 a fraction of the $100,00 it cost him to make them. Another set was given to Anthony and Company of New York to settle a debt for cameras and supplies. He managed to pay off most of the rest of his debts with a little left over, but during the panic of 1873 he lost it all. Later, in 1887, he also lost his wife to disease. (W.J.G., 585) Brady kept a small studio in Washington D.C. for many more years but he continued to fade into obscurity. (Webster s, 130) He lived on in failing eyesight and suffering from rheumatism until a truck in Washington hit him in 1895. After he recovered enough he went to live with friends in New York who took care of him. (W.J.G. 585) In 1896 he took ill. He spent the rest of his days in the charity ward of New York Presbyterian Hospital. He died on January 15, 1896. (Webster s, 130) Brady, Mathew B. Webster s American Biographies. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1979.May, Stephen. Mathew Brady s Portraits: Images as History at the Fogg Art Museum. Mathew Brady s Portraits. http://www.thebee.com/aweb/archive/brady.htm> (22 Oct, 1998).Rudisill, Richard. Brady, Mathew B. The World Book Encyclopedia. 1998 ed.W.J.G. Brady, Mathew B. Dictionary of American Biography. New York, NY: Charles Scribner s Sons, 1957.