Portrait Photographer and War Journalist: Matthew Brady, born 1822 May 18th

The new studio is insulated, drywalled and heated with in-floor heat.

Mathew Brady, a famed 19th century photographer, was born on 18 May 1822 in Warren County, New York. In 1858 he opened Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. The city provided him with access to the nation’s political and military leaders.

He turned his attention from being a portrait photographer, to documenting the Civil War. Planning to record the war on a grand scale, he organized a corps of photographers to follow the troops in the field. Friends tried to dissuade him, citing battlefield risk and financial ruin, but Brady insisted. He later said, “I felt that I had to go. A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.”

Mathew Brady did not take all of the Civil War photographs credited to him.  He spent most of his time managing his corps of traveling photographers, preserving their negatives.  When photographs from his collection were published, whether printed by Brady or adapted as engravings in publications, they were credited with Brady’s name.

In 1862 Brady stunned the country by exhibiting Alexander Gardner’s and James Gibson’s images of corpses from the Antietam battlefield. This display was the first time most people saw the horror of war. The New York Times said that Brady had brought “home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war.”

He risked his fortune by perusing his Civil War business, Brady lost the gamble and declared bankruptcy. His negatives were neglected until 1875, when Congress purchased the entire archive for $25,000. Brady’s creditors took the entire sum. He died in 1896, under-funded under-appreciated.

Mathew Brady had a significant and enduring impact on photography art and profession. His war images showed that photographs could be more than stilled portraits, and his work represent the first instance of the comprehensive photo-journalism of a war.


“Freese-Frame” ~~ The J. Geils Band

“I Turn My Radio On” ~~ Spoon

“Picture Book” ~~ The Kinks

“Picture This” ~~ Blondie

“Kamera” ~~ Wilco

“Photograph” ~~ R.E.M. and Natalie Merchant

“Kodachrome” ~~ Paul Simon

One thought on “Portrait Photographer and War Journalist: Matthew Brady, born 1822 May 18th

  1. The American Civil War. That would have been quite a war to photograph. A lot of horrors I imagine. I have read a couple of books of soldiers diaries and letters and it was such a huge loss of life and so many of the soldiers untrained. I was shocked to learn that they had some soldiers whose job it was to come up at the rear and shoot all those who were fleeing the battle in their terror. So if Brady was there taking photos he would have seen it all.


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