Alexander Gardner 1821-1882 - Portrait of Lewis Payne 1865
I love the old photos which tell stories. The faces of the past which have no other connection left through human memory and relationship and that photography has immortalised. Roland Barthes wrote “I happened on a photograph of Napoleons’ youngest brother Jerome, taken in 1852 and I realized then, with an amazement I’ve not been able to lessen since: I am looking at eyes that looked at the emperor.”
Gardner was born in Scotland and moved to the US in his thirties, he was a socialist interested in working class reforms and wanted to help Scots move to new farms in America. His work during the American Civil war is often misattributed to Matthew Brady. Gardner recorded the aftermath of the assassination of President Lincoln, one of the conspirators Lewis Payne is shown in this picture in his cell.
Gardner pioneered the collodian wet plate process which uses glass plates soaked and still wet with chemical gel exposed and developed within 15 minutes before they dried. They collected a huge amount of detail. On the 11th August I’m going to feature a modern artist using the same method. Gardner made 17/20 inch prints from the glass plates and charged 50-750 dollars for each. The short time period meant that Gardner and his fellow Civil War photographers had portable darkrooms, like caravans which they travelled around the battlefield with.