Matthew Brady was one of the most celebrated photographers in American history, best known for his photographs of the Civil War.
A Master in the Infancy of Photography
Brady was born in 1822 in Warren County, New York. At the age of 17, he moved to New York City. He was interested in photography at an early age and had his own studio by the age of 18. In 1849, he opened a studio in Washington, DC. Two years later, he married Juliette Handy. By 1850, he had become a well-known photographer and had already won numerous awards for his work, particularly photographs of famous people.
Bringing Home the Brutality of the Civil War
During the Civil War, Brady took numerous photographs of battlefields. He first took pictures during the First Battle of Bull Run, where he nearly got captured. Brady employed a team of 23 other photographers and gave them each a traveling darkroom. It was these assistants who captured most of the scenes from the battlefields. Due to deteriorating eyesight, Brady seldom went to battlefields after Bull Run. In 1862, he put on an exhibition in Washington that featured scenes from the Antietam Battlefields. The photographs captured the depth of the bloody struggle, depicting corpses and injured soldiers. The images were extremely influential and brought home the horrors of war to everyday Americans who otherwise would never know.
Spurned by the Government
Brady spent over $100,000 producing Civil War photographs, but to his dismay, the US government never purchased them. Consequently, he lost his studio and fell into bankruptcy. Brady died in 1896 in New York City after being run over by a streetcar. He died penniless.
Today, however, Brady’s photographs are among the only visual tributes to the Civil War. He took pictures of numerous generals and politicians, including Abraham Lincoln. One of his photos of Lincoln was used on the US five-dollar bill.