Photodude Debunks Civil War Photog Mathew Brady

Atlanta-based blogger Photodude takes Andrew Sullivan to task by debunking Mathew Brady‘s role as the photographer of the American Civil War. I’ve seen many, many Mathew Brady photographs, but never heard this angle. Did the Ken Burns documentary series on the Civil War mention this? (UPDATE: I’ve corrected the spelling of Brady’s first name except where quoting Photodude below. More on Brady here and here.)

As someone intimately familiar with both the history of photography and the Civil War, I can tell you that Matthew [sic] Brady was well known as a sour self-promoting character with far more ego than talent. Yes, he did take some famous photos during the Civil War, but he also took the work of talented photographers like Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and others, and proudly presented it as his own. The quote I recall is along the lines of “that photo is so good I’m going to tell the world it’s a Matthew Brady photograph.” He was brazen about it. You might say Matthew Brady invented the concept of “work for hire.”


Filed under publishing, U.S., war

2 responses to “Photodude Debunks Civil War Photog Mathew Brady

  1. David Tooley

    As someone who is just as familiar with the photography of the US Civil War, this whole thread is far too cynical….As i can not tell which of you said what i will not point the finger at either of you….
    Mathew Brady [one “t” please] was very very famous for his work BEFORE the war. He became an entrepenuer DURING the war: He had the money and contacts, he HIRED people to do the work….
    As with a modern day photo studio, he supplied the materials, paid the bills and paid the salaries, therefore any images produced were his. Alexander Gardner was a most talented photographer in his own right and resented not being creditted: tough….Alex did what everyone has the right to do: quit…..He set up shop almost across the street from the Brady Studio in Washington City[which he had been the manager of by the way]……Tim O’Sullivan’s reasons for leaving his mentor and going with Alex have not been found in the written literature….Alex Gardner and Tim O’Sullivan produced numerous images during the Western Expansion-post Civil War, individually……Neither of them had the contacts during the war to make them remembered…when the war ended NO ONE wanted to remember the carnage for quite a number of years….It was only after Mr. Brady had the help of Gen. Ben Butler did he get any monetary settlement for his work, and all of that money went to creditors and suppliers. Mathew Brady died virtually penniless, was living with his nephew Levin Handy.

  2. David,

    Thanks for a better-informed corrective. I should have googled around a bit before citing Photodude’s cynical (or resentful) take.

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