(From Wikipedia, the
Mathew B. Brady (1822 -
January 15, 1896), was one of the most celebrated 19th century American
photographers, best known for his portraits of celebrities and the
documentation of the American Civil War. He is credited with being the
father of photojournalism.
Brady was born in Warren County, New York, to Irish immigrant parents,
Andrew and Julia Brady. He moved to New York City at the age of 17. By
1844, he had his own photography studio in New York, and by 1845, Brady
began to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans. He opened a studio in
Washington, D.C. in 1849, where he met Juliette Handy, whom he married in
1851. Brady's early images were daguerreotypes, and he won many awards for
his work; in the 1850s ambrotype photography became popular, which gave
way to the albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass
negatives most commonly used in the American Civil War photography. In
1859, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri popularized the
carte de visite and these small pictures (the size of a visiting card)
rapidly became a popular novelty as thousands of these images were created
and sold in the United States and Europe.Brady's efforts to document the
Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio right onto
the battlefields earned Brady his place in history. Despite the obvious
dangers, financial risk, and discouragement of his friends he is later
quoted as saying "I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go,' and I went."
His first popular photographs of the conflict were at the First Battle of
Bull Run, in which he got so close to the action that he only just avoided
He employed Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan,
William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche and seventeen other
men, each of whom were given a traveling darkroom, to go out and
photograph scenes from the Civil War. Brady generally stayed in
Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visited
battlefields personally. This may have been due, at least in part, to the
fact that Brady's eyesight began to deteriorate in the 1850s.
In October 1862, Brady presented an exhibition of photographs from the
Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery entitled, "The Dead of Antietam."
Many of the images in this presentation were graphic photographs of
corpses, a presentation totally new to America. This was the first time
that many Americans saw the realities of war in photographs as distinct
from previous "artists' impressions".
Following the conflict, a war-weary public lost interest in seeing photos
of the war, and Brady’s popularity and practice declined drastically.
During the war Brady spent over $100,000 to create over 10,000 plates. He
expected the U.S. government to buy the photographs when the war ended,
but when the government refused to do so he was forced to sell his New
York City studio and go into bankruptcy. Congress granted Brady $25,000 in
1875, but he remained deeply in debt. Depressed by his financial
situation, loss of eyesight and devastated by the death of his wife in
1887, he became very lonely. Mathew Brady died penniless in the charity
ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, at five o'clock, on
January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident.
Brady's funeral was financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry. He
was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Levin Corbin Handy, Brady's nephew by marriage, took over his uncle's
photography business after his death.
The thousands of photographs Mathew Brady took have become the most
important visual documentation of the Civil War, and have helped
historians better understand the era.
Brady photographed and made portraits of many senior Union officers in the
war, including Ulysses S. Grant, Nathaniel Banks, Don Carlos Buell,
Ambrose Burnside, Benjamin Butler, Joshua Chamberlain, George Custer,
David Farragut, John Gibbon, Winfield Hancock, Samuel P. Heintzelman,
Joseph Hooker, Oliver Howard, David Hunter, John A. Logan, Irvin McDowell,
George McClellan, James McPherson, George Meade, David Dixon Porter,
William Rosecrans, John Schofield, William Sherman, Daniel Sickles, Henry
Warner Slocum, George Stoneman, Edwin V. Sumner, George Thomas, Emory
Upton, James Wadsworth, and Lew Wallace.
On the Confederate side, Brady photographed P.G.T. Beauregard, Stonewall
Jackson, James Longstreet, Lord Lyons, James Henry Hammond, and Robert E.
Lee. (Lee's first session with Brady was in 1845 as a lieutenant colonel
in the U.S. Army, his final after the war in Richmond, Virginia.)
Brady also photographed Abraham Lincoln on many occasions. His Lincoln
photographs have been used for the $5 dollar bill and the Lincoln penny.
After the Civil War, many of the plates Brady used became the glass in
greenhouses, and the pictures were lost forever.