Photography and the American Civil War – an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The following teaser is from an article in the April 4, 2013 edition of the New York Times:

Among the most arresting images in “Photography and the American Civil War,” a magisterial exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is “A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia, April 1865” by John Reekie. The remains of five soldiers are piled on a stretcher in the foreground. Their flesh is almost gone, leaving rags, boots and bones; their bleached skulls are roughly arranged in a horizontal line. In the background four African-American soldiers dig graves for the dead. Posing for the camera, a fifth black man sits next to the stretcher, his head in line with the white skulls.

If this were a painted image, it could be an allegory of the end of slavery. That it is a photograph makes a big difference. The men, dead and alive, were certainly real, and so were the circumstances that brought them to this moment. Nevertheless the photographer has altered history. The man in the foreground is posing in a way that he would be unlikely to have done otherwise. How much else was changed? Did Reekie find the skulls as they are in his picture, or was it his idea to arrange them thus to line up with a living man’s head? …

“Photography and the American Civil War” continues through Sept. 2 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; (212) 535-7710,

Read the full article.

The following is from the Met’s website:

More than two hundred of the finest and most poignant photographs of the American Civil War have been brought together for this landmark exhibition. Through examples drawn from the Metropolitan’s celebrated holdings of this material, complemented by important loans from public and private collections, the exhibition will examine the evolving role of the camera during the nation’s bloodiest war. The “War between the States” was the great test of the young Republic’s commitment to its founding precepts; it was also a watershed in photographic history. The camera recorded from beginning to end the heartbreaking narrative of the epic four-year war (1861–1865) in which 750,000 lives were lost. This traveling exhibition will explore, through photography, the full pathos of the brutal conflict that, after 150 years, still looms large in the American public’s imagination.

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