Rare Images of Antietam and the Photographers Who Took Them

Thanks to a Hagerstown pal, I’ve acquired and am devouring Steve Recker’s wonderful new book Rare Images of Antietam and the Photographers Who Took Them.

A Washington County native, Recker has researched the lives of all the major photographers who took photos of Antietam battlefield: Elias Marken Recher, David Bachrach, W. B. King, J. H. Wagoner, and more.

Recker carefully investigated how each photographer came to take their pictures, and has painstakingly worked to understand what is depicted in each. Also included are some rarely-seen images of the photographers themselves. Some of these cartes de visite and stereoviews have never been seen before.

And you can’t get it on Amazon–only at area bookstores and at Recker’s site, Virtual Antietam. So virtually run, don’t walk, to his site and grab a copy before they sell out.

Read a Q & A with the author on John Banks’ Civil War Blog.

Read an article about Recker and his career in the Hagerstown Daily Mail.

The “Artist Corps” at Work: Chase and Bachrach at Niagara Falls

After reading David Bachrach’s memories of outdoor work during and after the Civil War, it was exciting to acquire an actual image of him in the wild.

This stereoview of Bachrach (seated) and William Moody Chase (standing) shows them with their outdoor studio, the Niagara Falls railroad suspension bridge on the horizon. Upon the tent a sign reads “Artist Corps, Chase’s American Scenery.”

The scene gives life to Bachrach’s sketchy  recollections in volume 53 of The Photographic Journal of America:

“About a year after the war I fell in with Mr. William M. Chase, a former army officer of volunteers, afterward a sutler, from Massachusetts, who went into the publication of stereoscopic views, very popular at the time. I made the negatives for him for about two years, over 10,000 of them . . . We went all over Maryland, the Cumberland and Shenandoah Valleys, in the Alleghenies, Washington, D.C., on the Hudson and Niagara Falls” (“Over Fifty Years of Photography,” Part III, The Photographic Journal of America, Volume 53, February 1916, pg. 71).

Bachrach had developed his skills at outdoor work during the war, “in portable dark rooms, both with horse teams and for small work with those carried by hand.”

Success often required what he calls “dodges”–improvised methods for keeping the plates wet and for capturing the spray of falls and rapids.

Bachrach’s memoir places these two years between 1865 and 1868, when he and Chase traveled to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis to photograph the graduating class there–the first time such as thing had been done.

David J. Bachrach (1845-1921) is buried in Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, Baltimore, Md.; William M. Chase (1817-1901) is buried in Worcester Rural Cemetery, Worcester Co., Massachusetts.

Read  three parts of David Bachrach’s four-part memoir, “Over Fifty Years of Photography,” free on google books, in The Photographic Journal of America and Wilson’s Photographic Magazine. Part I is found in The Photographic Journal of America, volume 52, December 1915, pp. 578-579; Part II in volume 53 pp. 18-20, January 1916; Part III in volume 53 pp. 71-73 February 1916;  and Part IV in Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, volume 53 pp. 117-119 March 1916.

© waldonia 2012

Soldier in a Sylvan Glade

I don’t know enough about military dress to tell if this soldier’s uniform is post- or ante-bellum, but this Bachrach & Bro. cabinet card portrait has the look of late 19th century studio style.

The not-quite-young man attempts a relaxed stance, leaning casually upon a ludicrously unrealistic papier mache – er – rock? Behind him is a misty forest backdrop.

A few things about his uniform stand out: He wears a forage cap with artillery insignia, possibly with one row of braid. Perhaps a 1st lieutenant? His sack coat is quite tight and short–not sure it’s Civil War style.

Three aspects of this portrait date it to 1875 or after: The cabinet card size, use of painted background and papier-mache props, and the name of the studio.

The cabinet-size portrait became popular just after the Civil War, as demand for the carte de visite portraits fell off.

“Several sizes were suggested among the professionals,” writes photo historian Robert Taft, “but the one which soon caught public favor was commonly credited to G. Wharton Simpson, the editor of one of the British photographic journals. It made its appearance in this country in the fall of 1866. . . . The cabinet size (for it was soon known by that name in this country) rapidly achieved popular favor” (Photography and the American Scene, p. 323).

New York theatrical portraitist Jose Mora is credited with popularizing painted backgrounds and a new variety of props in the 1870s (Taft, 350-51).

In this he was abetted by L. W. Seavey of New York. “To Seavey, in large measure” writes Taft, ” must go the credit, or the blame, for the introduction of the painted background. He rose to fame during the seventies, making a specialty of manufacturing accessories for the photographic gallery” (Taft, 352).

Soon studios all over the country were employing a wide variety of accessories, such as papier mache rocks, stumps, fences and gates, paper flowers and vines, imitation balustrades and porticos, etc.

Another feature that dates the photo is the studio’s name. David Bachrach (1845-1921), whose descendants continue as portrait photographers today, took his younger brother Moses into the business in  1875, and the studio then became known as “Bachrach & Bro.” until about 1910 (Photographic Journal of America, v. 53, n. 3, March 1916, p. 117).

Also worth noting is the composition of the card mount. The fraying at bottom right shows that the mount is made of paste board, made by pasting multiple sheets together; according to William C. Darrah,  it was introduced about 1870.

The subject’s jacket  is short and tight-fitting, , and worn buttoned to the neck, in the style that became popular after 1880.

But the crease in the trousers may be the best aid to dating this portrait: Men’s pants did not begin sporting a crease until the advent of the wooden trouser  press ca. 1890.