By Mary Panzer. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., 1997. Hardcover with dust jacket, 232 pages, index, illustrated. New condition.
Mathew Brady (circa 1825-1896) remains an elusive and paradoxical figure. Renowned as a photographer of Civil War battlefields, he devoted most of his career to portraiture. An inexhaustible entrepreneur and self promoter, he left little except images of others to represent himself to posterity.
In "Mathew Brady and the Image of History," Mary Panzer describes how Brady used the documentary medium of photography to portray a stable, purposeful, patriotic republic during the decades when the national identity was fragmenting. She charts the most progressive years of Brady's career from his emergence in 1844 as a daguerrotypist in New York to his bankruptcy in Washington, D.C., in 1872. Intent on creating a "national portrait gallery" of famous leaders that would connect such luminaries as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay with the Civil War leaders who succeeded them- and with future generations- Brady assiduously courted his subjects, enhancing their reputations along with his own. Taking advantage of emerging photographic paper printing techniques to create large format, classically posed portraits, Brady also collaborated with painters such as G.P.A. Healy and Alonzo Chappel, who used his photographs to complete their own heroically scaled images.
Contending that Brady's photographs contribute to an ongoing national interest in the Civil War, Panzer concludes that they continue to function as Brady hoped they would, constructing an idealized history in which fact and memory are intertwined.
Mary Panzer is curator of photographs for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.