cover image Photography and the American Civil War

Photography and the American Civil War

Jeff L. Rosenheim. Yale/Metropolitan Museum of Art, $50 (288p) ISBN 978-0-300-19180-6

Images as vast and as haunting as their subjects comprise the bulk of this collection, which accompanies a new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Moving in roughly chronological order through the Civil War years, Met photography curator Rosenheim attentively argues that the rise of popular photography coincided with the onset of the Civil War to signify the beginning of the modern era. Examining the use of war images in newspapers and political campaigns, the sentimental obsession over portraiture by soldiers and their families, and the national mourning enacted through mass images, Rosenheim weaves the rhetorical and material realities of the war years by attaching them to the photographic image. While his explanations of changes in photographic technology and methodology are of interest primarily to specialists, the majority of the text is gracefully directed toward the images themselves. Grandiose landscapes, macabre and sobering images of the wounded, portraits startlingly bare in their sentiment%E2%80%94the hundreds of images carry the heft of history. The Civil War has received plenty of attention in popular publications and, increasingly, in serious academic contexts; the bald reality captured in these diverse photographs, however, manages still to add an affecting contribution to the discussion. Color illus. (May)