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To What Extent Did Realism In Photography Impact The Public Opinion Of The Civil War

2081 words - 9 pages

This investigation explores to what extent did realism presented by photography impact the public opinion of the Civil War? The Civil War was the pioneer war in terms of actively using photography as a means of recording. The investigation focuses on photography’s role in capturing the war at face value. Photos of major battles and scenes that exposed citizens to the reality of war will be analyzed, as well as how their opinions changed because of it. The motivations behind why photos were taken will be explored, such as propaganda, as well as reactions to them. Research into events being photographed, their intentions and who requested them will be made, also assessing its effect on the public determining successfulness.
Battle field photography was not developed for the sole purpose of recording events as would a newspaper or painting. Battle field photography brought intense images directly from the field to the public, bringing the horrors of war to families so far from their husbands and sons (Niiler). The photography institution brought the reality of war to the public in manners newspapers were incapable of (Harvey 73). Photography had been around prior to the war but commercialization was a new concept thirsty for a new conflict (Niiler). At the start of the Civil War, these photographers took photos of camp life, in field action as well as the aftermath (Harvey 73). There were a few major photographers were making war a reality. One was Mathew Brady, who gave the initial exposure to dead soldiers to the public (Harvey 76). Oliver Holmes commented on a selection of war photos stating, “...all the emotions excited by the actual sight of the stained and sordid scene, strewed with rags and wrecks, came back to us, and we buried the mutilated remains of the dead they too vividly represented” (Harvey 76). For him, these photos presented war in a rural perspective (Harvey 82). Photography presented natures presence through capturing exact scenes (Sweet 127) while not explicitly representing war, but allowing the viewer to interpret the battle (Sweet 96).
Of the major Union photographers, Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner are two. Brady was known for “having changed the way war was understood and the way it was depicted” (Harvey 73). Gardner was known for not leaving out tiny appalling details, especially after Antietam. He told messages of mortality, presented costs of war with respect to human life and gave insight to wars capacity for relentless destruction (Harvey 76). A famous image is Bloody Lane, Confederate Dead, Antietam showing cruelty of war, inhumane and savagery through heaps of bodies (Harvey 76).
At the opening of the Civil War in 1861, Brady was present for the notorious Battle of Bull Run. In enemy territory he was able to “pluck” recounts of the war and capture the only reliable records of this battle (Pritzer 14). Humphrey’s Journal of the time wrote,...

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