Sunday, August 7, 2011

Civil War Sunday-Image Making

Not all the reinactors at the Manassas Battlefield and Old Town Manassas during the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of First Bull Run/First Manassas were soldiers.  The soldier reinactors get a lot of attention, but there are many dedicated people who take civilian roles.

At Manassas, some were members of Lee's Lieutenants Army of Northern Virginia, a reinactor's group.

Wayne Ritchie, of Rocky Mount, NC is a Mathew Brady reinactor who is a member of Lee's Lieutenants.  We met him at Old Town Manassas, at the living history area on the Manassas Museum grounds.  Sweat running down our faces, we listened with great interest as Mr. Brady, the famous Civil War image maker (there were no "photographers" in that day) showed us some of his most famous pictures, and the glass plates used to take the pictures.

Since I've loved to take photos since I was a little girl, this was fascinating.  I started out with a brownie-like camera and black and white film, progressed to an Instamatic, but this was another world of photography entirely.

The glass plates could only be used once.

This is his camera. 

Mr. Brady - er, Richie, told us about visiting Robert E. Lee shortly after the war ended and how he took one of the most famous images of his career.  

Mr Brady spent some time with us describing the process of image making.   It was a very involved process.  Way different than our point and shoot cameras with auto focus, various settings, optical zooms, red eye removal, video, and memory cards.

Mr. Ritchie loved to speak to children.  We saw him talk to a couple of different groups of children.  That's the great thing about interacting with the reinactors, how they love to share their love of Civil War lore with others.  They must be asked the same questions over and over, but speak to people with the greatest patience.

If someone wanted to take his picture (with a modern digital camera, of course) he patiently explained that there were no pictures to be taken, but rather images.

Some of Brady's images served, for the first time, to bring the horrors of war to the American people. Indeed, the process of photography, in a way, was invented just in time for the Civil War.  And, that portrait he took of Robert E. Lee is an icon now, so to speak.

As far as the real Mathew Brady, his life had a sad end.  He ended up going bankrupt because, after the war was over, no one wanted his pictures.  And yet, our knowledge of the Civil War would have been way different without the photos taken by Brady and his assistants.

We owe him a huge debt every time we discuss the Civil War, because the images we have of that war in our minds are his images - or those of his assistants.

1 comment:

  1. One of the best articles written about a very close friend of mine. Nice to know that his work dose not go without notice.


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