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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 03-01-2019   #81
leicapixie
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I read with a keenness all the strange answers about Capa.
One that he changed his name, so what!
I did a shoot concerning "lifestyles" and the Lady gave me a new name..
To think out of my box, to expand my creativity..It worked!
I was a photojournalist recording "interesting times".
I never regard photography as "ART".
It can be meaningful, inspiring and thoughtful.
When I see what purports to be "art" i have laughing fits..
Do not judge any combat photographer unless you can stand in their shoes..
No historian ever lost a battle.
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Old 03-01-2019   #82
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
I find it risible to judge the artistic aesthetics of Cappa's D-Day photographs. Comparing them to photographs made under pleasant and relaxed circumstances is naive and superficial.
  • Cappa was in the first assault on Omaha Beach.
  • The troops (and Cappa) had just completed a 17 hour crossing in rough seas. They were physically stressed well before people began to do their very best to kill them.
  • At the time of the initial landing the waves were 5-6 feet and the wind was at their back. All the landing craft were difficult to control and many were swamped. When these photographs were made people were struggling and drowning nearby.
  • By the way, at the same time Nazi defenders were firing 75 and105 mm cannons and a variety of anti-tank guns at the landing craft. These weapons were manned by veteran troops (352nd Infantry Division) .
  • "I was the first one out. The seventh man was the next one to get across the beach without being hit. All the ones in-between were hit. Two were killed; three were injured. That's how lucky you had to be." Captain Richard Merrill, 2nd Ranger Battalion.
  • The US 1st and 29th infantry divisions suffered ~ 2,000 casualties during the Omaha beach assault.
  • Is it likely Cappa made these photographs while realizing he could be drowned or blown to bits at any time?

Yet, despite these circumstance it is valid to criticize Cappa for a deficit of aesthetics? Evaluating them as if they were in a juried exhibition is a staggering disregard of context. These are simply beyond my comprehension.

I wish HCB had been on the same landing craft with Cappa. Then we'd have some proper photographs. Or, maybe Winogrand would have delivered images with an interesting balance between form and content. No. Any sane person who be terrified. Aesthetics would be very low priority.

Separately, whatever Cappa's personal failings might be or how his story may have been amplified or glorified, are irrelevant. Cappa made those photographs under circumstances very few (if any) of us can fully appreciate. Nothing about his life before or afterwards is detracts from what he accomplished during that morning in France.

Amen.

Thank you.
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Old 03-01-2019   #83
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QUOTE: "Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
I find it risible to judge the artistic aesthetics of Capa's D-Day photographs. Comparing them to photographs made under pleasant and relaxed circumstances is naive and superficial.
Cappa was in the first assault on Omaha Beach.
The troops (and Cappa) had just completed a 17 hour crossing in rough seas. They were physically stressed well before people began to do their very best to kill them.
At the time of the initial landing the waves were 5-6 feet and the wind was at their back. All the landing craft were difficult to control and many were swamped. When these photographs were made people were struggling and drowning nearby.
By the way, at the same time Nazi defenders were firing 75 and 105 mm cannons and a variety of anti-tank guns at the landing craft. These weapons were manned by veteran troops (352nd Infantry Division) .
"I was the first one out. The seventh man was the next one to get across the beach without being hit. All the ones in-between were hit. Two were killed; three were injured. That's how lucky you had to be." Captain Richard Merrill, 2nd Ranger Battalion.
The US 1st and 29th infantry divisions suffered ~ 2,000 casualties during the Omaha beach assault.
Is it likely Cappa made these photographs while realizing he could be drowned or blown to bits at any time?

Yet, despite these circumstance it is valid to criticize Cappa for a deficit of aesthetics? Evaluating them as if they were in a juried exhibition is a staggering disregard of context. These are simply beyond my comprehension.

I wish HCB had been on the same landing craft with Cappa. Then we'd have some proper photographs. Or, maybe Winogrand would have delivered images with an interesting balance between form and content. No. Any sane person who be terrified. Aesthetics would be very low priority.

Separately, whatever Cappa's personal failings might be or how his story may have been amplified or glorified, are irrelevant. Cappa made those photographs under circumstances very few (if any) of us can fully appreciate. Nothing about his life before or afterwards is detracts from what he accomplished during that morning in France."


[quote=Harry Lime;2872777]Amen.



+1 for me too. Peter

PS.....I simply do not get the impulse to try to reinvent history, tear down those who have achieved and justify it based in some cases on what seems to amounts to conspiracy theory thinking. All while missing the point - which is summarized very eloquently by willie_901.

BTW I realized belatedly that the unit Capa elected to hit the beaches with was Easy Company, the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, US Army 1st Division . This Division is better known as "The Big Red One" about who's exploits a film was made in the 1960's. It is also known as "The Fighting First".

The Big Red One would have been known to Capa as one of the most experienced and feted units in the American Army having served in North Africa and in Italy and having a history going back to WW1 when it was formed.

I believe that Capa would have almost certainly picked this unit to hit the Normandy beaches with because while, as a humble embedded photographer he could not possibly know which units would have which tasks on which specific beaches, he would have understood that this unit with its record would almost certainly be in the thick of the fighting wherever that fighting took place. Which they were - with some of the division's units suffering 30 percent casualties in the first hour of the assault.

Here is what one account says of those events "Eventually, an assault section of E Company (the very company Capa hit the beaches with) under First Lieutenant John Spalding and Staff Sergeant Philip Streczyk managed to cross a minefield, breach the enemy wire, and struggle their way to the bluff. Colonel George A. Taylor, the regimental commander, noting the small breakthrough stood to his feet and yelled at his troops, "The only men who remain on this beach are the dead and those who are about to die! Let's get moving!" Soon other troops began making their way up the bluffs along Spaulding's route while other gaps were blown through the wire and mines. By vicious fighting, some hand-to-hand, other sections, platoons, and eventually companies made it to the top and began pushing toward Colleville-Sur-Mer. By noon of that bloody day, the 16th Infantry had broken through the beach defenses and established a foothold that allowed follow-on units to land and move through."

Though Capa would not have known if the Big Red One would be in the literal first wave (there is no way he would have been shown the order of battle or the landing plans) he would have understood that this unit certainly would be in one of the first waves. His claim to have been in the first wave may be overcooked when looked at by a pedant who wants to nit pick history to his own advantage. But in a general sense it was perfectly true.
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Old 03-01-2019   #84
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Late to the conversation, but a few thoughts…


As far as the 'blur' of the photos is concerned.

For starters it has to be kept in mind that Capa was probably shooting with 25 or 50 asa film.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...d_white_film_8

Sunny 16 rule:

Bright sunlight, blue sky

100asa f16 @ 1/100 - 1/125th
50asa f16 @ 1/50th - 1/60th
25asa f16 @ 1/25th - 1/30th

Unless you are standing still or shooting a static subject it is basically impossible to produce an action picture that is NOT affected by motion blur with these settings.

The morning of June 6 was overcast and it was raining, so the exposure settings listed above are optimistic at best.

Now imagine you are wading through hundreds of feet of waist deep surf, while trying to dodge a hailstorm of bullets being directed at you and the world around you is on fire.

Try making a sharp photo running down your driveway or the next time you're at the beach @ 1/30th. Even just the act of moving forward is going to blur the picture with such slow shutter speeds. Extra bonus points for doing the test while someone is shooting at you with an MG42 putting out 1200 rounds a minute and your hands are shaking uncontrollably from fear.

Have Coleman, J. Ross Baughman (photographer), Rob McElroy (photo historian) taken these technical details into consideration? Aren’t they photographers themselves? I ask, because quite frankly trying to guess Capa’s exposure settings and film speed was one of the first things that shot through my head the first time I saw these photos many years ago.



The Missing Frames:

Here's a crazy idea. Maybe in the heat of the battle Capa forgot to take the damn lens cap off the second Contax (which he supposedly unpacked on the beach) and didn't notice it, until he got many shots into the roll. Sounds ridiculous, but anyone who shoots a rangefinder has done this. Now imagine you are in the middle of the opening scene of 'Saving Private Ryan’. That's a perfectly valid explanation for there being no trace of pictures on the head of the roll. According to the Peta Pixel article the first of the 'magnificent’ 11 shots is frame 29 on the roll…


The odd looking Negatives:

- Contax cameras were not weather sealed. Considering the circumstances it is hard to believe that Capa somehow managed to keep his cameras perfectly dry. If water entered the cameras it would have affected the film.

- If the film got wet or soaked it may have damaged the emulsion. Saltwater is more caustic than tap water. The film would have also been wet for many hours while being transported from Normandy to London, which could have affected the emulsion.

If the film became soaked with sea water, did the salt react with the developer or fixer and damage the roll?

The film looks poorly developed to me.

- Notice the streaks coming from the top to the bottom on several of the frames . This is a typical symptom of insufficient agitation during development. I’ve heard of it referred to as 'bromide drag, which is a common problem with stand development. The streaks could also be the result of a light leak. Or it can also happen if the film is not properly threaded on the developing reel and sticks together.

- Perhaps the film got stuck together during development, destroying several frames.

- Has anyone ever spoken to Kodak or Ilford if the theory of the emulsion ’sliding’ is even remotely valid?
A simple post on APUG, which has several former Kodak engineers as members would clear that question up very quickly.

https://pro.magnumphotos.com/CS.aspx...YKS&POPUPPN=35




When I lived in London I had the honor of encountering Mr. John G. Morris on a handful of occasions. Obviously I was merely a stranger to Mr Morris and not a friend like Bill, so these are just my observations and impressions.

When I visited the Greta Taro exhibit at the Barbican it was attended by John G. Morris and Irme Schaber, who had written a biography on Taro. I may have also encountered Mr Coleman at the show. At one point there was a sharp exchange of words between Mr. Morris and the man who may have been Mr Coleman, regarding Capa and the D-Day events. It was impressive to see a man, who at that time was in his late 90’s still display such fire and vigor, because Mr. Morris did not take these accusations lightly. Obviously this is a very long running dispute.


Personally here’s how I see it.

To me the only thing that matters is the simple fact that Robert Capa aka Endre Friedmann had the guts to land on that beach that morning, somehow managed to take a few pictures and made it back alive. A claim that thousands on both sides were unable to make that day. Anything beyond that is splitting hairs and few of us are in any position to judge him.


Yes, I would like to know what happened to the rest of the negatives, mainly because they represent lost glimpses into history; not because I want to pursue some wild conspiracy theory. Judging by the tone of Coleman's article, this smells like a personal vendetta that has been a life long pursuit.

Capa was never one to shy away from making a good personal story, a better personal story by adding a little window dressing. But by all accounts he wasn’t a blow hard, who inflated his deeds to make himself out to be some sort of war hero with a chest full of medals he didn't earn. Capa was many things, but I’ve never head anyone describe him as a phony.

I have two relatives who were in Normandy and possibly took part in the landings. They had some horrific experiences, that they rarely or never brought up. My uncle Andy would only tell the funny stories from his ‘all expense paid vacation in France’. These stories were a variant of the truth, that has been made more entertaining with the addition of a few choice details. But these embellishments didn’t change the underlying truth. Sometime I wonder if it was my uncle’s way of dealing with what he had experienced. Maybe the same held true for Capa. Yes, he was a master of self promotion, but also a man who was tormented by his experiences.
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Old 03-02-2019   #85
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Thanks, Bill, Willie and Harry. Your takes make a lot of sense precisely because they apply a bit of common sense - the kind which Coleman deliberately (and bitterly) lacks.

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Old 03-02-2019   #86
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Okay well how about the long running controversy about the fallen soldier shot? Capa was good for sure. He lived to promote himself. Changed his name...branded it Capa.
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Old 03-02-2019   #87
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harry Lime View Post
Sunny 16 rule:

Bright sunlight, blue sky


100asa f16 @ 1/100 - 1/125th
50asa f16 @ 1/50th - 1/60th
25asa f16 @ 1/25th - 1/30th

Unless you are standing still or shooting a static subject it is basically impossible to produce an action picture that is NOT affected by motion blur with these settings.

The morning of June 6 was overcast and it was raining, so the exposure settings listed above are optimistic at best.
Why would you think he was shooting at f16?
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Old 03-02-2019   #88
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Okay well how about the long running controversy about the fallen soldier shot? Capa was good for sure. He lived to promote himself. Changed his name...branded it Capa.
The name change was for two reasons.

First, he wasn't having any luck breaking into the photo business as Endre Friedmann. So, Greta made up the fictional character of Robert Capa, who supposedly was a famous American photographer working in Paris. This ruse worked for a short time, but eventually the truth came out and he was hired, simply because he was good and kept the name.

Second, he and Greta changed their names to conceal the fact that they were Jewish. The Nazis were on the rise, it as the eve of WW2 and antisemitism was widespread.
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Old 03-02-2019   #89
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
Why would you think he was shooting at f16?
I have no idea what stop he was shooting at. I'm trying to illustrate that he was working with very slow film (25-50asa) in the early morning hours of an overcast, rainy day. Hence he probably was using slow shutter speeds, which would explain the motion blur in the pictures.
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Old 03-02-2019   #90
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I am kind of bemused by certain people raising the fact that a young fellow from Budapest named Andre Friedman took the working name "Robert Capa" who in time became a celebrity (showing perhaps just how wise he was to have done so). In which case I have to ask them what is their point? ...................... other perhaps than to subliminally suggest he is therefore sneaky and untrustworthy. But of course back in the day that is often what people did either to have a more marketable moniker - to make them sound less like the poor ordinary everyday shlub (albeit with good looks) they really were, or to downplay their ethnic origins. Just like film stars who changed their names for the stage and screen and who played roles, Friedman played a role too - he played the role of Robert Capa.

Here are a just a tiny few other celebrities who did the same and I have to ask those folk - were these people sneaky and untrustworthy too......?

Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jeane Mortenson)
Alan Alda (Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo)
John Wayne (Marion Robert Morrison )
Rock Hudson (Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. )
Cary Grant (Archibald Alexander Leach )
etc.

And not a few Jewish celebrities back then and in the post war era also changed their names, just as Friedman did, and for much the same reason no doubt. Though I have to say being a Jew working on Germany in the 1930's Friedman arguably had better and more urgent reasons than most.

Woody Allen (Allan Stewart Konigsberg)
Lauren Bacall (Betty Joan Perske)
Lorne Green (Chaim Grun)
Jerry Lewis (Joseph Levitch)
Gene wilder (Jerome Silberman)
And about a zillion other people.

In short this was not remarkable then and it is not remarkable now. So why do a few people keep remarking on it?
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Old 03-02-2019   #91
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Why are people so worked up about a pot-rattling story by AD Coleman?
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Old 03-03-2019   #92
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Why are people so worked up about a pot-rattling story by AD Coleman?

Because it`s Capa and he still attracts interest.

I`ve read most of the stuff on him and have most of his books and I must admit that I always exercise a degree of caution when it comes to his version of events.
What isn`t in doubt however that he did land on that beach with his camera.

If you`ve ever been there and climbed those bluffs you`ll realise just what a task that must have been and that's without coming under fire.

That was where Heinrich Severloh (the beast of Omaha ) had his machine gun nest . He claimed to have fired over 13,500 rounds with the machine gun and 400 with rifles.


This is looking down on the positions of incoming US troops and was taken in 1977.





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Old 03-03-2019   #93
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Old 03-04-2019   #94
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Markey View Post
Because it`s Capa and he still attracts interest.

I`ve read most of the stuff on him and have most of his books and I must admit that I always exercise a degree of caution when it comes to his version of events.
What isn`t in doubt however that he did land on that beach with his camera.

If you`ve ever been there and climbed those bluffs you`ll realise just what a task that must have been and that's without coming under fire.

That was where Heinrich Severloh (the beast of Omaha ) had his machine gun nest . He claimed to have fired over 13,500 rounds with the machine gun and 400 with rifles.


This is looking down on the positions of incoming US troops and was taken in 1977.





I understand that part. Why is anyone worked up about something AD Coleman would have to say?
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Old 03-04-2019   #95
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Okay, here's my 2 cents worth...

According to my Kodak Pocket Photguide, in heavy overcast with ASA 50 film, Capa would have had an exposure of around 1/60th between f4 and f5.6. At f8 he'd have been shooting at 1/30th or so.

Remember, the whole time he's also crawling towards the beach while being under heavy fire. He's got to be highly stressed and trying to do two things at once: take pictures and stay alive.

I don't know about the processing, but even if the processing was perfect, I'd be shocked if the photos weren't blurred with what Capa was dealing with that day!
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Old 03-04-2019   #96
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No one's going to address the controversy about the falling soldier? Btw I brought up the pseudonym aspect as sarcasm. And at any rate he was indeed a master of self promotion. Don't think I'm a Capa hater...far from it...go read some of my ancient posts boys.

Combat photographers are an interesting bunch....seems each war brings new technologies new methods and techniques. Eg bang bang club boys lot different deal than Matthew Brady.

Thanks Harry. I had forgotten about the Jewish angle but I have my doubts about how much that was an impetus for the name change. I say it was pure marketing. Pretty genius too so it seems.
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Old 03-04-2019   #97
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I understand that part. Why is anyone worked up about something AD Coleman would have to say?
Oh ,can`t answer that.
I haven`t an opinion on him as I`d never heard of him before so its just a journalistic piece like any other to me.
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Old 03-04-2019   #98
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Thanks Harry. I had forgotten about the Jewish angle but I have my doubts about how much that was an impetus for the name change. I say it was pure marketing. Pretty genius too so it seems.
Not much of an impetus according to Magnum`s own site .
The change was to make him sound like a "famous" American photographer in order to sell more prints.
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Old 03-05-2019   #99
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What I find most interesting about this thread is I don't think any of the apologists have actually read the writings of A.D. Coleman. I have. He isn't trying to tear anyone down. He started out looking for the truth about melting film and it snowballed from there.

The melting film story is false. At the end of his life, Morris did an interview with Amanpour on CNN and admitted he never held the film in his hands and that Capa might have only shot those 11 images. Quite a retreat from the story he was peddling all those years.

As far as the falling Spanish soldier image is concerned, Capa made the whole thing up. That has already been proven.

The preponderance of the evidence suggests Capa didn't spend much time at all at Omaha beach and never made it to shore. He landed, took a few pictures, then left. Can't really blame him whatever his motivation was, but he later lied about it to make himself look better. There is the rub. Why lie? Seems he did a lot of that.
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Old 03-05-2019   #100
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I'm surprised no one has commented on this. He would probably be as good a subject as Capa, in his own way. Thanks for the quote.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
From Wikipedia some of the material on Mathew Brady....

In 1844, Brady opened his own photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York in 1844,[6][7] and by 1845, he began to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe.

In 1850, Brady produced The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which featured noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, was not financially rewarding but invited increased attention to Brady's work and artistry.

At first, the effect of the Civil War on Brady's business was a brisk increase in sales of cartes de visite to departing soldiers. Brady readily marketed to parents the idea of capturing their young soldiers' images before they might be lost to war by running an ad in The New York Daily Tribune that warned, "You cannot tell how soon it may be too late." However, he was soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. His efforts to document the American Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio onto the battlefields earned Brady his place in history. While most of the time the battle had ceased before pictures were taken, Brady came under direct fire at the First Battle of Bull Run, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg.

He also employed Alexander Gardner,[12] James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom was given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the Civil War. Brady generally stayed in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visited battlefields personally.

Many of the images in Brady's collection are, in reality, thought to be the work of his assistants. Brady was criticized for failing to document the work, though it is unclear whether it was intentional or due simply to a lack of inclination to document the photographer of a specific image. Because so much of Brady's photography is missing information, it is difficult to know not only who took the picture, but also exactly when or where it was taken. Brady was not able to photograph actual battle scenes, as the photographic equipment in those days was still in the infancy of its technical development and required that a subject be still in order for a clear photo to be produced.

During the war, Brady spent over $100,000 to create over 10,000 plates. He expected the US government to buy the photographs when the war ended. When the government refused to do so he was forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. Congress granted Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remained deeply in debt. The public was unwilling to dwell on the gruesomeness of the war after it had ended, and so private collectors were scarce. Depressed by his financial situation and loss of eyesight, and devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, he died penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident. Brady's funeral was financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Thanks for the interesting insight. I have read accounts that I don't know if they are true or not, but credit Brady with the action, not an assistant, that sometimes bodies were moved to increase the impact of the photo.

Funny how we often treat our 'heroes'.
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