But Did He Really Take the Pictures?
Many of the best-known photos from the Civil War are credited to Mathew Brady. But chances are, he didn't actually shoot most of them. There's a chance he didn't shoot any.
As head of the nation's best-known studio before the war and friend to presidents and generals, Brady was able to organize, finance, and direct teams of photographers who traveled to the battlefields. We know Brady went along sometimes and maybe directed some photos despite his failing eyesight because he personally appears in some pictures attributed to him (that alone should hint someone was helping).
Gardner. Was he unfairly stealing credit? That's still debated among historians, though most think his assistants understood they worked for Brady. It's much like a portrait today that is stamped with the studio's name. "It doesn't credit the individual photographer," says Anne Peter son, a photo curator at Southern Methodist University. She is studying the work of Alexander Gardner, a Brady assistant, and discounts speculation that hard feelings over attribution led Gardner to leave Brady during the war. It probably had more to do with Brady's business problems, which meant Gardner and other assistants probably were paid very little, and not very often.
Gardner, in turn, did give more credit to his assistants, including Timothy O'Sullivan and James Gibson. But even then, something odd was sometimes afoot: Their photos at Gettysburg, for example, carry credits that rotate, in the same order, among the three. Maybe they took turns with the camera, Peter son says, or just attributed work somewhat arbitrarily.
Gardner's visual style also differed from Brady's, Peterson says. Brady stuck close to his roots in formal portraits and often photographed generals or troop assemblies. Gardner took the grittier scenes at battlefieldsthe rows of dead bodies that caused such a sensation back home. But Brady still deserves credit for spurring photographers to cover the war, says Keith Davis, who is writing a book about Civil War photographers. Davis didn't coin the phrase, but he says the overall credit might best go to "the Brady Bunch."