If Only There Had Been Instagram

These days, if we see something interesting going on, it’s pretty easy to pull out our handy-dandy iPhones and snap a pic, sharing it with all of our friends in seconds. Unfortunately for people like Mathew Brady, back in the ol’ days there was nothing like Instagram or Snapchat, and people had to use slow, toxic, confusing processes in order to capture even a single picture. Because of this, we are left with many fewer selfies by average people posing with dying/dead people or action shots taken whilst fighting the enemy, and many more (often staged) static images taken by one of the few photographers at the time.

One of these photographers’ names was Matthew Brady, or as I (along with historians, teachers, writers, and a few others) like to call him, The Father of Photojournalism. Once the war began, he decided he would try to create the ultimate collection to document the war effort, and with the help of his team of men, he did just that. The way he and his men took photos is called Wet Plate Photography, and requires the hand mixing of very toxic chemicals, a large amount of heavy machinery, and extreme patience.

To take the picture, you began by mixing chemicals together into a solution called Collodion, and then coating a sheet of glass with the mixture. Then, in the dark room, you cover the glass with one more chemical, and insert the glass into the camera. To take the picture, the photographer opened the camera cover and exposed the glass to the light for 2 to 3 seconds. Then they had to take the camera back to the studio and develop it.

At Mathew Brady’s first display of photographs, called “The Dead of Antietam,” the nation was shocked at the carnage and reality of the photographs. One person was even recorded saying, “Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it…”

Though the means of photography was very different than that of today,  it was very advanced for that time, and played a large role in the war. People were forced to face the horror of the war, and it inspired future documentarians to continue taking photographs and eventually videos, bringing wars back home to the people.




8 thoughts on “If Only There Had Been Instagram

  1. This is so interesting! I love that you included the process for photography. I also think that these are good points about how capturing the war images changed how people viewed war. It was the first time people at home were confronted with the terrors of war and made it more real.

    • I really like this because it is a whole different view to the war. I didn’t know that people could take photographs that long ago. In a way, it adds a layer of beauty to something that was so tragic.

  2. I thought you brought up a really good point about how it’s so easy to capture a moment in time nowadays, and the availability of it makes the value of a priceless shot go down. When photographs were more scarce they were worth so much more, and I really liked how you brought up that they caught real moments in contrast to the worthless-ness of selfies.

  3. I love your take on this! I think it’s quite interesting how you brought up the comparison between the value of the pictures that we take today than with the pictures taken back then. The whole process of mixing chemicals together and developing the photographs adds a realness to the photos I think. It makes it seem more valuable as opposed to the thousands of selfies taken in our generation digitally. It makes you wonder, what’s the meaning of it all? And you captured it perfectly by explaining how those self-made photographs played a larger role, affected the events of that time, and were used for a greater and more authentic purpose, notably during the Civil War.

  4. I feel like it is very important to realize how notable Brady’s actions were for his time, and you did an excellent job of explaining the significance of his actions. The spreading of misinformation and fabrication of all kinds of events (especially wars) is something that has existed and been done many times throughout history, not excluding modern times. What Brady did was really show how disturbing, grim, and generally morbid the battlefield is, and this was something that the people truly needed to see.

  5. This was so cool to read, I always knew photography was difficult back then but I never realized how difficult it was. I love how much research you did on the topic and your explanation of the process they went through when taking pictures.

  6. This is really interesting to read. It’s funny how back then, it took a whole process to take pictures, but now it’s as easy as pressing a button or tapping on a touch screen. It was cool how you posted the process behind photography in that era.

  7. I really liked that you chose to talk about something we take for granted today and how it was much more difficult back then. It’s also interesting how photography was used back then because each photo had so much more value than the pictures that we are constantly taking these days with so little effort. I never gave something like this as much thought as you have and I admire your perspective on how different things were then as opposed to now.

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