Mathew Brady: American Art Series
The North American Indians
Genthe’s Photographs of San Francisco’s Old Chinatown
Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer
Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography
Alfred Stieglitz at Lake George
Gertrude Käsebier: The Photographer and Her Photographs
Alvin Langdon Coburn: Symbolist Photographer, 1882––1966
Women at Work: One Hundred and Fifty-Three Photographs
Men at Work: Photographic Studies of Modern Men and Machines
Paul Strand: An American Vision
Paul Strand (Aperture Masters of Photography Series, No. 1)
Edward Weston: Forms of Passion
Tina Modotti: Photographs
Berenice Abbott: Photographs
Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye
Walker Evans: The Getty Museum Collection
Photography and the American Scene
The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present (fifth edition, 1982)
Americans did not invent photography, and perhaps this has always rankled just a bit. After all, the list of American discoveries during the nineteenth century seems to include nearly everything: the carpet sweeper and the machine gun, the sleeping car and the harvester-thresher, the electric iron and the incandescent light, the phonograph and the safety razor, linotype and vulcanized rubber, and on and on. For another thing, the United States, just twenty-four years old at the century’s start, was busy inventing itself, and photography—discovered in France by Nicéphore Niépce and developed there by Louis Daguerre and independently in England by William Henry Fox Talbot—would prove to be an essential tool in that process of self-creation. But just as the national identity could compose itself from the synthesis of many nationalities, and just as the American language—based on English, itself a synthesis—would become an omnivorous and ever-expanding construct that could take in borrowings from virtually every language, so the art and science of photography was effortlessly adopted by the fledgling nation, which could almost persuade itself of its ownership.
For much of the nineteenth century the arts in America were a rope tugged at one end by those beholden to Europe and yearning for Europe’s approval, and at the other by those who sought an entirely new template, specific to the geography and history and language of the United States. Numerous well-known examples of the difficulties encountered by the latter cause can be found in literary history: the derision at home that countered Poe’s fame abroad, the neglect that Melville fell into at the height of his powers, the total obscurity in which half of Emily Dickinson’s work lay for a full century. Visual artists had a somewhat easier time of it, for reasons that had a great deal to do with the relation of Americans to their own landscape. The scale of the American vista demanded representation in ways that had few antecedents in European painting, and those painters who could deliver the goods became popular across class lines, whether their subjects were the familiar valleys of the East Coast or the titanic panoramas of the far West. Frederic Edwin Church’s massive Niagara (1857) is a famous but hardly unique example of a painting that could draw large crowds without sacrificing anything in the way of artistic integrity.
By the time photography was technically capable of taking in the grandeur of Western landscapes its audience was already well prepared. One of the decisive factors in this preparation was the Civil War, extensively documented by photographers as no war had been up to that time. (The Crimean War had been well photographed, by Roger Fenton among others, but to a much lesser extent.) Mathew Brady’s atelier—which included among its most important operatives Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O’Sullivan, who both went on to significant postwar careers—determined many people’s visual imagination of the war. They recorded campgrounds and …
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