Mathew Brady

Matthew Brady was born in Warren County, in 1823

On the outbreak of the American Civil War there was a dramatic increase in the demand for work at
Brady’s studios as soldiers wanted to be photographed in uniform before going to the front-line. In
July, 1861 Brady and Alfred Waud, an artist working for Harper’s Weekly, travelled to the front-line and
witnessed Bull Run, the first major battle of the war. The battle was a disaster for the Union Army and
Brady came close to being captured by the enemy.

Soon after arriving back from the front Brady decided to make a photographic record of the American
Civil War. He sent Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, William Pywell, George
Barnard, and eighteen other men to travel throughout the country taking photographs of the war.
Each one had his own travelling darkroom so that that collodion plates could be processed on the spot.
This included Gardner’s famous President Lincoln on the Battlefield of Antietam and Home of a Rebel
Sharpshooter (1863).


During the Civil War, the process of taking photographs was complex and time-consuming. Two
photographers would arrive at a location. One would mix chemicals and pour them on a clean glass
plate. After the chemicals were given time to evaporate, the glass plate would be sensitized by being
immersed — in darkness — in a bath solution. Placed in a holder, the plate would then be inserted in
the camera, which had been positioned and focused by the other photographer. Exposure of the plate
and development of the photograph had to be completed within minutes; then the exposed plate was
rushed to the darkroom wagon for developing. Each fragile glass plate had to be treated with great care
after development — a difficult task on a battlefield.


The carte de visite photograph proved to be a very popular item during the American Civil War.
Soldiers, friends and family members would have a means of inexpensively obtaining photographs and
sending them to loved ones in small envelopes. Photos of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and other
celebrities of the era became an instant hit with the public. People were not only buying photographs of
themselves, but also photographs of celebrities


Mathew Brady

The American Civil War

Civil War Photography

Alexander Gardner

The wetplate Collodion process (video)

The wetplate Collodion process (not for beginners)