Posts Tagged ‘A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep

31
Jul
22

Photographs: Frank Hurley – Soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on the Western Front during the First World War, mid-1917 – September 1918

July 2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'The Battalion' 1917-1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
The Battalion
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

 

Familiar yet strange: Frank Hurley’s First World War photographs

Most texts about the war photographs of Frank Hurley taken on the Western Front that I have read, focus on his use of multiple negatives to construct fantastical images of reportage, ‘Photographic Impression Pictures’ – combination prints – “pictures made to produce a realistic impression of certain events by the combined use of a number of negatives.” Hurley argued that it was impossible to capture the essence of what he saw in a single negative. He observed in the Australasian Photo-Review in 1919:

“None but those who have endeavoured can realise the insurmountable difficulties of portraying a modern battle by the camera. To include the event on a single negative, I have tried and tried, but the results are hopeless … Now, if negatives are taken of all the separate incidents in the action and combined, some idea may then be gained of what a modern battle looks like.”1

“Hurley desperately wanted to convey this horror through his photographs. He took many shots of the apocalyptic battlefields but was not content. While bleak, the stillness and shock of these images failed to communicate the cacophony of war. How was he to visually capture the ‘blinding sheet of flame; and the […] screaming shriek of thousands of shells’?”2

Hurley clashed with the official historian, Captain Charles Bean, about truth and photography. Bean was not convinced on the use of multiple negatives and referred to the images as ‘fakes’ but, on threat of resignation, Hurley stood his ground “and was not prepared to compromise for his art nor to fail in his duty to portray the horrors that he witnessed.”

These images formed a very small part of the work that Hurley produced in World War I and none are reproduced in this posting.

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Personally I am more interested in Hurley’s “straight” photographs and in observing the minutiae within each image. By doing this we can began to invert Hurley’s idea of capturing the whole event on the battlefield on a combined “macro” multi-negative. What Hurley was actually doing in his ordinary photographs was making possible such a complete record through the accumulation of familiar yet strange “micro” observations on a single negative – creating “atmospheres” of existence that document incidents in the action, which formally work together to picture the whole.

For example in the photograph 48th Battalion awaiting orders to “Hop” in the Big Drive (18th July – 6th November 1917, below), Hurley uses a “near far” perspective, focusing the viewer’s eye along the perspective of the trench to the lone tree, building and standing figure vanishing point in the distance: but in the detail we can observe a man smoking a pipe, two men sewing and, to the right, what looks like a Very Pistol (or flare gun) – heavily used in both world wars – casually lying on a sandbag. The slight blur of the soldiers Brodie Mark I helmet at left indicates the length of the exposure, the physical length of that exposures existence. By observing the minutiae in this image the viewer can enter the space of the image and be fully present with these soldiers.

Other photographs offer more intriguing details that contribute to make the whole “picture” of the battlefield. Showing the cacophony and detritus of war, Australians Waiting to “go over” Passchendaele (18th July – 6th November 1917, below) also shows in the misty background the silhouette of one of those new fangled tanks that were making an appearance on the battlefield, probably knocked out or broken down as they usually were. In the photograph incorrectly titled by Lawsons, ‘Australians Waiting to “Go Over”‘ – its correct title being Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele (1917, below) – we can observe a man holding a gas mask in his left hand; canisters of water and other belongings hanging from metal rods banged into the mud of the face of the trench; a big wooden stretcher standing vertically in the trench; and two of the men wearing an armband brassard with the words SB on them, indicating these men were stretcher bearers. Again, in the minutiae of elements, of detail, Hurley creates direct access to an “atmosphere” of the battlefield in all its dourness, mud and hollow-eyed soldiers staring grimly at the camera.

In the photograph Crew of 2 Gun, Royal Marine Artillery loading ‘Granny’, a 15 inch Howitzer (heavy artillery gun), near the Menin Road (4 October 1917, below), Hurley captures the balletic dance required to load a monster, death dealing gun… the heavy shells manoeuvred over to the gun with a chain and pulley rigged up beside the gun pit. Reminiscent of the group portraits of Rembrandt with their “dramatic use of light and shadow (tenebrism) and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military group portrait,”3 Hurley’s photograph features three acolytes with their heads bowed at right whilst in the centre three seemingly kneeling figures raise their eyes as if in a devotional Renaissance painting to observe Christ being raised, pulled by chains onto the cross which is suspended above them.

In Hurley’s observations of the world – quick, fleeting glances of destruction, not long fixed stares – we look, recognise and feel his need to recognise his objective… before we need to verbalise our objective, ‘clear-sighted’, unbiased ‘views’ of the subject matter. In Australian wounded on the Menin Road, near Birr Cross Road on September 20th, 1917 (September 20th, 1917, below), Hurley’s glass plate has cracked much like the world he was photographing. Clutching a blanket, a man on a stretcher in the foreground turns to look at the camera(man) while next to him a sergeant put his hand to his head. To his left another man is covered with a blanket so that we can only see his face from the nose upwards but we can observe he is staring towards the camera. Behind these grounded men is a maelstrom of movement picturing the violent turmoil of war – abandoned stretchers to the right; an upended lorry perched precariously at an angle; and walking wounded trudging past the seemingly endless line of injured and dead lying on the side of a muddy road in a decimated landscape. This photograph is but a tiny grain of sand on the head of a pin, here and then gone, for soon after Major George Heydon (the man in the sling in the centre of the photograph) had passed this point “a shell landed at that same spot killing many of the men on the stretchers.”4 Life recorded and then snuffed out, both in less than a second.

Hurley need not have worried about capturing the macro, the whole of any event, for this is an impossible task with any still camera. By it’s very nature the camera excludes whatever is outside its direct line of sight, its point of view… so it is always exclusory. But in freezing the micro/cosmos within any photograph what Hurley captures are intriguing, fleeting “atmospheres” where the contexts and conditions for creation have brought together disparate elements to create a visual whole, in this case a dance of death.

In my mind, Hurley’s war photographs are much like the later English photographer Bill Brandt’s landscape photographs. Despite the difference in subject matter, my feeling is that both Brandt and Hurley were trying to display a sublime aesthetic. Whereas Hurley wanted to capture the intensity of the battlefield and its death and despair in one intimate, sublime image – here using sublime in the archaic sense of wanting to elevate something to a high degree of moral or spiritual purity or excellence – Brandt wanted to capture the archaic sublime beauty of the landscape. Brandt attempted to do this by introducing “an atmosphere that connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the work. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not merely aim to represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image…”5 The very thing that Hurley stated he wanted to do, to give some idea of what a modern battle looks and feels like in a single negative. Brandt stated, “Thus it was I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. … I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange.”6

To photograph these minutiae is not simply to document but to (e)strange through a heightened sense of atmosphere. A combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange: Isn’t that what Hurley’s war photographs are?

Hurley’s photographs contain a familiar yet strange “atmosphere” at once both objective but truly immersive and subjective (we can “picture” ourselves there) – in which the different elements that make the landscape (nature, light, viewpoint, weather conditions, subject, context) converge in an aesthetic canon rooted in a cultural tradition – in this case, war and war photography.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,450

 

Footnotes

  1. Australasian Photo-Review, 15 Feb, 1919, p. 164
  2. Anonymous. “Frank Hurley’s World War I photography,” on the State Library of New South Wales website Nd [Online] Cited 28/07/2022
  3. Anonymous. “The Night Watch,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 28/07/2022
  4. Anonymous. “AWM E00711,” on the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022
  5. Anonymous. “Bill Brandt” text for the exhibition of the same name at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid quoted on the Art Blart website 22nd August 2021 [Online] Cited 28/07/2022
  6. Ibid.,

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These photographs appeared on the Lawsons Auctioneers, Sydney website and are published here under fair use conditions for the purpose of education and research. I have added pertinent information with each photograph where possible. Each photograph has been lightly digitally cleaned. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“What an awful scene of desolation! Everything has been swept away: only stumps of trees stick up here & there […] It’s the most awful & appalling sight I have ever seen. The exaggerated machinations of hell are here typified. Everywhere the ground is littered with bits of guns, bayonets, shells & men. Way down in one of these mine craters was an awful sight. There lay three hideous, almost skeleton decomposed fragments of corpses of German gunners. Oh the frightfulness of it all. To think that these fragments were once sweethearts, may be, husbands or loved sons, & this was the end. Almost back again to their native element but terrible. Until my dying day I shall never forget this haunting glimpse down into the mine crater on hill 60.”

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Frank Hurley diary entry, 23rd August, 1917

 

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

.
John McCrae

 

 

James Francis “Frank” Hurley was 30 years old when he joined the Australian Imperial Force as an honorary captain and official photographer.

Before arriving on the Western Front in August 1917 to document the Third Battle of Ypres, Hurley had been no stranger to photographing under risky conditions. Less than one year earlier, he had returned to civilisation after two years stranded on the pack ice of Antarctica with Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance, a desperate struggle for survival during which he managed to produce a stunning set of images.

 

Hurley’s commitment to capturing an image, to ‘getting there without a fuss’, as Bean described it, underplays the many difficulties he faced in the field. His daily encounters with death, destruction and the ubiquitous mud of Flanders can only have hampered his photography. Hurley was – perhaps unknowingly – echoing Bean’s impetus to establish a national collection and, in turn, a memorial to Australians at war when he wrote:

“My enthusiasm and keenness, however, to record the hideous things men have to endure urges me on. No monetary considerations, or very few others in fact, would induce any man to flounder in mud to his knees to try and take pictures.”

Frank Hurley, quoted in Daniel O’Keefe, Hurley at War: The Photography and Diaries of Frank Hurley in Two World Wars, Fairfax Library, Sydney, 1986, p. 7 quoted in Susan van Wyk. “The grim duties of France: Frank Hurley and the Exhibition of Enlargements Official War Photographs,” in National Gallery of Victoria Art Journal 51, 26 Jul 13 [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) '48th Battalion awaiting orders to "Hop" in the Big Drive' 18th July - 6th November 1917 (recto)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
48th Battalion awaiting orders to “Hop” in the Big Drive (recto)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) '48th Battalion awaiting orders to "Hop" in the Big Drive' 18th July - 6th November 1917 (verso)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
48th Battalion awaiting orders to “Hop” in the Big Drive (verso)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Australians Waiting to "go over" Passchendaele' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Australians Waiting to “go over” Passchendaele
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

 

Notice the silhouette of the tank in the background of the photograph, and at centre right a .303inch Vickers Machine Gun mounted on a tripod (see below)

 

.303inch Vickers Machine Gun between 1914 and 1918

 

.303inch Vickers Machine Gun
between 1914 and 1918
Courtesy of York Museums Trust
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

 

 

Standard Vickers machine gun with tripod mount and associated ammunition belt, ammunition box plus petrol can (as a condenser can) with hose. The Vickers Gun was the standard British machine gun from 1912. It was heavy and mounted on a tripod, requiring a team of six men to transport it to and operate it on the battlefield. Although difficult to use on advancing troops, machine guns were used to deadly effect from defensive positions.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele' 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele
1917
Gelatin silver print

State Library of Queensland title: Australian Field Ambulance officers sheltering in trench
Imperial War Museum title: Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele © IWM (E(AUS) 839)
Lawsons title: Australians Waiting to “Go Over” (no text on verso of print)

 

 

The caption from Lawsons auction house is incorrect. These are not front line troops waiting to “go over” but stretcher bearers as evidenced by the armband on the two men on the left hand side of the photograph and their attendant stretcher vertically propped up against the trench.

“While the soldiers were readying themselves at the front of a trench, awaiting the order to go over the top, the unarmed bearers were at the back with their big wooden stretchers, trying, says Mayhew, to be as invisible as possible because the fighting men often considered them unlucky.”

 

In a more recent Australian publication Diaries of a Stretcher-Bearer 1916-1918 the Great War experience of Edward Charles Munro is retold. Munro served as an AAMC stretcher-bearer on the Western Front (Edward C. Munro, Donald Munro (ed.), Diaries of a stretcher-bearer: 1916-1918, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 2010). Munro, awarded the Military Medal for his actions during the Battle of Bullecourt in May 1917, candidly related his involvement and experience in the 5th Australian Field Ambulance. The text gives the reader a clear understanding of the work and wartime experience of an Australian stretcher-bearer on the Western Front and is remarkable for its honesty and detail. The work is unusual as it portrayed the reality of life on the Western Front in a manner few others have done. For example, the author graphically described the technical aspects of the stretcher-bearers’ work in evacuating the wounded and frankly related his personal fears and those of his AAMC stretcher-bearer squad while working in harsh conditions and whilst under fire.

Liana Markovich. “‘No time for tears for the dying’: stretcher-bearers on the Western Front, 1914-1918.” Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of New South Wales, November 2015, p. 20.

 

Unknown maker. 'Armband brassard: Stretcher Bearer, Australian Army – Lance Corporal A Kennedy, 52 Battalion, AIF' c. 1916

 

Unknown maker
Armband brassard: Stretcher Bearer, Australian Army – Lance Corporal A Kennedy, 52 Battalion, AIF
c. 1916
Brass, Linen, White metal, Wool
Australian War Memorial Collection

 

 

Description

White woollen brassard (arm band), lined with white linen, with a nickel plated metal buckle, and five brass riveted eyelets at the free end for size adjustment. The letters ‘SB’ (stretcher bearer), in fine red wool cloth, are appliqué in the centre. The reverse has the wearer’s initials ‘A.K.’ in indelible pencil.

 

History / Summary

Alexander Kennedy, born in Glebe, Sydney, was a 20 year old baker working in Brisbane, when he enlisted in the AIF on 27 April 1915. After training he was assigned as a private to the Headquarters of 26 Battalion, with the service number 570.

The battalion sailed for Egypt on 29 June, aboard the troopship HMAT A60 Aenas, and then on to Gallipoli, where they landed on 12 September, undertaking defensive roles on the peninsula. Kennedy suffered what was diagnosed as an epileptic fit on 18 October. After assessment at 16 (British) Casualty Clearing Station, he returned to his unit the following day, but immediately suffered more fits. As a result, he was evacuated to the hospital ship, Soudan, and taken to Malta for treatment. Kennedy returned to duty in Egypt in March 1916 and transferred to D Company, 52 Battalion the following month, as a battalion stretcher bearer.

On 6 June 1916, he sailed with his battalion, aboard the Iverniai, to France for service on the Western Front. On 18 August Kennedy was promoted to lance corporal. In its first action in France, at Mouquet Farm on 3 September, fifty per cent of the men in 52 Battalion became casualties. Kennedy was one of them, receiving gunshot wounds to the shoulder, chest and left thigh, and fractured toes. Shortly before he was wounded he took part in an action in which a German machine gun crew were killed, for which he was subsequently awarded the Military Medal.

Kennedy was evacuated to a casualty clearing station on 5 September and then on to 18 (British) General Hospital at Camiers. There, his condition fluctuated, improving by 2 October, dangerously ill two weeks later, and then improving on 24 October. It is unclear form his records whether one or both of his legs was amputated, but an amputation took place on 16 November. A decision was made to try to transfer him to England by easy stages and he was moved about 4 miles to the St John’s Brigade Hospital near Etaples at the end of November. However, infection set in and he died there of septicemia at 12.15 a.m. on 2 December.

Anonymous text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 25/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Passchendaele Stunt Duckwalk track' 29th October 1917 (recto)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Passchendaele Stunt Duckwalk track (recto)
29th October 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Australian troops walk along a duckboard track through the remains of Chateau Wood, Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), 29 October 1917. The word duckboard was created during the early 20th century to describe the boards or slats of wood laid down to provide safe footing for the soldiers of World War I across wet or muddy ground in trenches or camps.

“One dares not venture off the duckboard or he will surely become bogged, or sink in the quicksand-like slime of rain-filled shell craters. Add to this frightful walking a harassing shellfire and soaking to the skin, and you curse the day that you were induced to put foot on this polluted damned ground.”

~ Frank Hurley Diary October 11, 1917

 

WWI, 30 Oct 1917; A general view of the battlefield at Hannebeek in the Ypres sector. In the foreground are the duckboard and corduroy tracks leading to Westhoek and Anzac Ridge, and beyond it several Australian artillerymen (right) can be seen making their way to their dugouts in the wood.

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Passchendaele Stunt Duckwalk track' 18th July - 6th November 1917 (verso)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Passchendaele Stunt Duckwalk track (verso)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Passchendaele' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Passchendaele
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'The mud Passchendaele' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
The mud Passchendaele
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Australian artillery, Passchendaele' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Australian artillery, Passchendaele
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

 

Australian gun crew next to what looks like a Vickers BL 8-inch howitzer (Mark VII or VIII) (see below)

 

British-designed BL 8 inch Mk 7 howitzer

 

British-designed BL 8 inch Mk 7 howitzer, manufactured in USA as Model 1917 and supplied to the Finnish army. Displayed in Hämeenlinna Artillery Museum. The stampings on the breech state: 8 IN. HOWITZER MODEL OF 1917 (VICKERS) MIDVALE NO 188 1918 VICKERS MARK VI
Photo taken on June 18, 2006
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Hellfire corner, Menin Road' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Hellfire corner, Menin Road (Third Battle of Ypres / Battle of Passchendaele)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Hurley’s most famous images, his view of Hellfire Corner on the Menin Road, “the most dangerous place on the Western Front”, taken during the 3rd battle of Ypres in 1917. Notice the attempt to screen the galloping horses and artillery from German observation and then shelling by flimsy pieces of material at the left hand side of the image.

“It [the Menin Road] is notorious and being enfiladed by the enemy’s fire is decidedly the hottest ground on the whole front. The way is strewn with dead horses, the effect of last night’s shelling and battered men’s helmets that tell of the fate of the drivers.”

~ Frank Hurley, diary, 14 September 1917, MS883, National Library of Australia

 

Hellfire Corner on the Menin Road, in the Ypres Sector. This well named locality was continually under observation and notorious for its danger. At night this road was crammed with traffic, limbers, guns, pack animals, motor lorries and troops. Several motor lorries received direct hits at different times and were totally destroyed. The dead bodies of horses, mules and men were often to be seen lying where the last shell had got them. The neighbourhood was piled with the wreckage of all kinds of transport. A ‘sticky’ spot that was always taken at the trot. Left to right is Ypres Wood on Railway Ridge in background, hessian camouflage on the corner, Hooge, track to Gordon House veers to the right with Leinster Farm in the distance.

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

The crossroads on the Menin Road outside Ypres, 27 September 1917. This spot was known as ‘Hellfire Corner’ and from the heights a few kilometres away German artillery observers could see the constant traffic passing along the Menin Road to the front lines. A British transport driver described Hellfire Corner: ‘… when I got to Hellfire Corner it was chaos. A salvo of shells had landed in among the convoy. The lorries were scattered all over the place and even those that hadn’t been directly hit had been run off the roadway … the road was littered with bodies and debris and shell-holes all over the place. (Driver LG Burton, Army Service Corps, quoted in Lyn Macdonald, They Called it Passchendaele, London, 1979, p. 92. Image: E01889)

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

Hellfire Corner was a junction in the Ypres Salient in the First World War. The main supplies for the British Army in this sector passed along the road from Ypres to Menin – the famous Menin Road. A section of the road was where the Sint-Jan-Zillebeke road and the Ypres-Roulers (Roeselare) railway (line 64) crossed the road. The German Army positions overlooked this spot and their guns were registered upon it so that movement through this junction was perilous, making it the most dangerous place in the sector.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

3rd Battle Ypres 1917 WW1 Footage Hell Fire Corner Menin Road Then And Now

Then and Now look at Hellfire Corner on Menin Road. Australian Divisions participated in the battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle and the First Battle of Passchendaele. In eight weeks of fighting Australian forces incurred 38,000 casualties.

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Crew of 2 Gun, Royal Marine Artillery loading 'Granny', a 15 inch Howitzer (heavy artillery gun), near the Menin Road' 4 October 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Crew of 2 Gun, Royal Marine Artillery loading ‘Granny’, a 15 inch Howitzer (heavy artillery gun), near the Menin Road
4 October 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title: Australian howitzer, Passchendaele (no text on back of print)

 

 

Crew of 2 Gun, Royal Marine Artillery loading ‘Granny’, a 15 inch Howitzer (heavy artillery gun), near the Menin Road, in the Ypres sector, one of the monsters which, in the fighting of 4 October 1917, greatly assisted the advance by pounding the enemy’s reserve areas and demolishing the concrete fortresses. The heavy shells are manoeuvred over to the gun with a chain and pulley rigged up beside the gun pit. Identified front right supporting a shell is Gunner 1113 A.C. Holder.

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 25/03/2022

 

The Battle of Menin Road was an offensive operation, part of the Third Battle of Ypres [also known as the Battle of Passchendaele] on the Western Front, undertaken by the British Second Army in an attempt to take sections of the curving ridge, east of Ypres, which the Menin Road crossed. This action saw the first involvement of Australian units (1st and 2nd Divisions AIF) in the Third Battle of Ypres. The attack was successful along its entire front, though the advancing troops had to overcome formidable entrenched German defensive positions which included mutually supporting concrete pill-box strongpoints and also resist fierce German counter-attacks. A feature of this battle was the intensity of the opening British artillery support. The two AIF Divisions sustained 5,013 casualties in the action.

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 25/03/2022

 

Heavy artillery was designed to pulverise enemy defensive positions. By and large German defences were constructed very well indeed, and the onus was on the Allies to attack them to retake ground occupied by the Germans in 1914. German defences often comprised concrete blockhouses and deep underground concrete dugouts which were impervious to Field Artillery.

Big guns were a prime target for opposing artillerymen who would seek to apply counter battery fire to enemy gun positions. Locating them accurately was a story in itself. In the end it was the British who triumphed thanks largely to the work of Adelaide-born (later Professor and 1915 Nobel Prize winner) Captain Lawrence Bragg, serving in the Royal Artillery. He and his team developed a surprisingly accurate technique based on sound ranging that gave the Allies a decisive advantage being able to locate enemy heavy guns with remarkable accuracy. It was a decisive factor in the Allied victory on 8th August 1918 at the Battle of Amiens.

Gunners have four defensive measures; distance from the enemy, concealment, protection in the form of dugouts and bunkers, and mobility. As far as range was concerned, soldiers have a saying; “if the enemy is in range so are you”. At least with heavy guns, they are generally beyond the range of Field Artillery. Concealment? When one of these guns went off, the entire neighbourhood knew it; at night the muzzle flash was prodigious, so notions of concealment were therefore moot. Once firing began the best protection is to be part of a massed barrage. Mobility is a misnomer in the case of most heavy artillery; it is certainly relative. The 9.2 inch Howitzers were not mobile – they could not easily be redeployed without time and lifting equipment. Protection? Defensive earthworks would not sustain a direct hit by enemy heavy artillery. Nor could they prevent enemy infantry attacking if they ever managed to get close enough (which they did during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917). In short, being a gunner was not without risk.

The Australian Heavy Batteries served on the Western Front largely detached from the rest of the AIF. They spent relatively little time on the Somme. Most of their service was rendered further north around Arras and Vimy in France and into Flanders, as part of British Corps Artillery. The Heavy Batteries were manned at the outset with soldiers from the permanent force Garrison Artillery, later augmented by reinforcements from the militia.

Steve Larkins. “36th Heavy Artillery Group,” on the Virtual War Memorial website November 2014 [Online] Cited 25/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Australian wounded on the Menin Road, near Birr Cross Road on September 20th, 1917'

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Australian wounded on the Menin Road, near Birr Cross Road on September 20th, 1917
September 20th, 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

National Library of Australia title: Australian wounded on the Menin Road, near Birr Cross Road on September 20th, 1917
Australian War Memorial title:
A scene on the Menin Road near Hooge, Belgium, Frank Hurley, 20 September 1917
Lawsons title: The Wounded Ypres (no text on back of print)

 

 

Notice the broken glass of the negative plate, the man being led at left possibly blinded in a gas attack, and the piles of stretchers at right.

“The Menin Road is a wondrous sight: with stretcher bearers packed on either side awaiting transport and the centre crowded with walking wounded and prisoners… A large number of casualties were coming in when we left … Those that came in and were not overly seriously wounded expressed their pleasure of having escaped the horror of another battle, and it is patent that all will thoroughly loathe this frightful prolongation of massacre.”

~ Hurley Diary entry 20 September 1917

 

“It was wondrously quiet, only an occasional shell was fired – the aftermath of the storm, and it sounded for all the world like the occasional boom of a roller on a peaceful beach, with the swish of the water corresponding to the scream of the shell.”

~ Hurley Diary entry 21 September 1917

 

A scene on the Menin Road near Hooge, 20 September 1917. The wounded are waiting for clearance to the advanced dressing station further back down the Menin Road towards Ypres. The soldier with his arm in a sling in the centre of the photograph is Major George Heydon, Regimental Medical Officer, 8th Battalion AIF, with members of the 1st Field Ambulance AIF. Shortly after Major Heydon passed this point a shell landed at that same spot killing many of the men on the stretchers. (AWM E00711)

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

In his photograph of the wounded on the Menin Road (above), Hurley shows a seemingly endless line of injured and dead lying on the side of a muddy road in a decimated landscape. A lone figure appears to be providing aid while a stream of stretcher-bearers, soldiers and German prisoners passes by. Hurley’s photograph conveys the scale of the landscape and the terrible human toll. The awfulness of the scene is confirmed in his diary entry from that day: ‘The Menin Road is a wondrous sight: with stretcher bearers packed on either side awaiting transport and the centre crowded with walking wounded and prisoners’. He also commented:

‘A large number of casualties were coming in when we left … Those that came in and were not overly seriously wounded expressed their pleasure of having escaped the horror of another battle, and it is patent that all will thoroughly loathe this frightful prolongation of massacre.’

Hurley (diary entry, 20th September 1917) quoted in Susan van Wyk. “The grim duties of France: Frank Hurley and the Exhibition of Enlargements Official War Photographs,” in Art Journal 51, National Gallery of Victoria website 2013 [Online] Cited 23/07/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Shell hole near Passchendaele' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Shell hole near Passchendaele
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Destruction Passchendaele' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Destruction Passchendaele
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

 

By the time Australian Frank Hurley arrived on the Western Front to assume ‘the grim duties of France’ in 1917,1 he had a well-established reputation as a photographer, adventurer and raconteur. His photographs and films along with his thrillingly described exploits in Antarctica on expeditions with Sir Douglas Mawson (1911-1913) and Sir Ernest Shackleton (1914-1916) had captured the public imagination. Hurley’s skills as a photographer, his controversial and occasionally shocking imagery and his ability to put on a ‘good show’ continued to ensure that his work was seen by mass audiences in London, Sydney and Melbourne in the years immediately following the First World War. A popular success with the general public, the Exhibition of Enlargements Official War Photographs opened in Melbourne in 1921 and offered audiences the opportunity to purchase his photographs and those of other official war photographers. Copies of four photographs by Hurley believed to be from this exhibition were presented to the National Gallery of Victoria in 2003.2

The outbreak of war in Europe coincided with the departure of Shackleton and his crew, including Hurley, on the Imperial Trans-Antarctica expedition. For the crew of the Endurance – largely comprising men from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand – the knowledge of the war in Europe must have weighed heavily. The Shackleton expedition met with disaster before it reached Antarctica. From January 1915 until August 1916 the party was stranded and had no news of the outside world. Aware of the outbreak of war, the shipwrecked crew often speculated on the outcome of the conflict, unaware that it was far from over. In July 1916 Hurley’s crewmate Thomas Orde Lee wrote in his diary: ‘I think we are all a little ashamed of having run away from it. Most though, think it must be over by now’.3 At the time of their rescue, all were shocked to learn that, after two years, the war was not over but, in fact, had escalated. The impact of this news was described by Shackleton who wrote that, upon being rescued, they felt ‘like men arisen from the dead to a world gone mad’.4

Within ten weeks of his rescue, Hurley travelled to London. In August 1917 he was appointed an official photographer and cinematographer with the Australian War Records Section (AWRS). Formed in May of that year, the AWRS, under the direction of Charles Bean, was charged to collect Australian war relics and records, including photographs. Photo-historian Shaune Lakin notes that, for Bean, ‘the photograph formed part of a broader national archive comprising written accounts, relics, and other pictorial records that together would tell the story and commemorate the history of Australians at war’.5 In this capacity Hurley was quickly deployed to Europe, arriving in France on 21 August 1917. He was under the direction of Bean, with whom he had a difficult relationship on occasions; the two are reputed to have disagreed about the role of photography. A notable point of conflict between them was Hurley’s commitment to using multiple negatives to create some of his photographs of battlefield scenes. For Hurley, singular photographs often failed to convey the scale, drama and activity of battle, and he described such images as looking more like a ‘rehearsal in a paddock’.6 In contrast, Bean’s view was that photographs needed to be an unmanipulated documentary record of the events in which Australian forces were engaged. But despite their differences, Bean clearly had respect for Hurley’s commitment to obtaining the images he wanted, and wrote: ‘[Hurley] is a splendid, capable photo-grapher. I was worrying that he might miss the best pictures but he always got there, without fuss’.7

After the sublime wilderness of Antarctica, wartime London presented a bleak picture to Hurley, but it was nothing compared to the horrors of the Western Front. His diaries convey the destruction he encountered. On his first day in Flanders, Hurley wrote: ‘What an awful scene of desolation! Everything has been swept away, – only stumps of trees stick up here or there and the whole field has the appearance of having been recently ploughed’.8 Hurley (diary entry, 23 August 1917).

His photographs convey even more vividly the visceral horror of the battlefield.

Susan van Wyk, Curator, Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2012).

Extract from Susan van Wyk. “The grim duties of France: Frank Hurley and the Exhibition of Enlargements Official War Photographs,” in Art Journal 51, National Gallery of Victoria 2013 [Online] Cited 23/07/2022

 

Notes

  1. Frank Hurley, ‘My diary, official war photographer, Commonwealth Military Forces, from 21 August 1917 to 31 August 1918’, in Papers of Frank Hurley, Manuscripts Collection, MS 833, National Library of Australia, Canberra.
  2. It is believed that the four NGV photographs may have come from this exhibition because the images’ sizes match the smallest print size offered for sale in the 1921 exhibition.
  3. Thomas Orde Lee (diary entry, 19 July 1916), quoted in Alisdair McGregor, Frank Hurley: A Photographer’s Life, Viking, Melbourne, 2004, p. 136.
  4. Ernest Shackleton, South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917, Konecky & Konecky, New York, 1998, p. 231.
  5. Shaune Lakin, Contact: Photographs from the Australian War Memorial Collection, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2006, p. xi.
  6. Frank Hurley, ‘War photography’, Australasian Photo-Review, 15 February 1919, p. 164, quoted in Helen Ennis, Man with a Camera: Frank Hurley Overseas, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2002, p. 3.
  7. Charles Bean (diary entry, vol. 132), quoted in David Millar, Snowdrift to Shellfire: Captain James Francis Hurley 1885-1962, David Ell, Sydney, 1984, p. 61.
  8. Hurley (diary entry, 23 August 1917).

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Captured German trenches strewn with dead after the battle of 20 September 1917'

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Captured German trenches strewn with dead after the battle of 20 September 1917
Sept 20, 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

Terrible effects of our Artillery. Boche dead may be seen lying in the foreground. Sept 20 1917. 4th Division
Australian War Memorial title: Captured German trenches strewn with dead after the battle of 20 September 1917
Lawsons title: “Dead” Passchendaele (no text on back of print)

 

 

Battle of Passchendaele (31 July – 10 November 1917) also known as the Third Battle of Ypres

The Third Battle of Ypres (German: Dritte Flandernschlacht; French: Troisième Bataille des Flandres; Dutch: Derde Slag om Ieper), also known as the Battle of Passchendaele (/ˈpæʃəndeɪl/), was a campaign of the First World War, fought by the Allies against the German Empire. The battle took place on the Western Front, from July to November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders, as part of a strategy decided by the Allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917. Passchendaele lies on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 mi (8.0 km) from Roulers (now Roeselare) a junction of the Bruges (Brugge) to Kortrijk railway. The station at Roulers was on the main supply route of the German 4th Army. Once Passchendaele Ridge had been captured, the Allied advance was to continue to a line from Thourout (now Torhout) to Couckelaere (Koekelare).

Further operations and a British supporting attack along the Belgian coast from Nieuport (Nieuwpoort), combined with an amphibious landing (Operation Hush), were to have reached Bruges and then the Dutch frontier. Although a general withdrawal had seemed inevitable in early October, the Germans were able to avoid one due to the resistance of the 4th Army, unusually wet weather in August, the beginning of the autumn rains in October and the diversion of British and French resources to Italy. The campaign ended in November, when the Canadian Corps captured Passchendaele, apart from local attacks in December and early in the new year. The Battle of the Lys (Fourth Battle of Ypres) and the Fifth Battle of Ypres of 1918, were fought before the Allies occupied the Belgian coast and reached the Dutch frontier.

A campaign in Flanders was controversial in 1917 and has remained so. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, opposed the offensive, as did General Ferdinand Foch, the Chief of Staff of the French Army. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), did not receive approval for the Flanders operation from the War Cabinet until 25 July. Matters of dispute by the participants, writers and historians since 1917 include the wisdom of pursuing an offensive strategy in the wake of the Nivelle Offensive, rather than waiting for the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France.

The choice of Flanders, its climate, the selection of General Hubert Gough and the Fifth Army to conduct the offensive, debates over the nature of the opening attack and between advocates of shallow and deeper objectives, remain controversial. The time between the Battle of Messines (7-14 June) and the first Allied attack (the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, 31 July), the extent to which the internal troubles of the French armies influenced the British, the effect of the exceptional weather, the decision to continue the offensive in October and the human costs of the campaign are also debated.

Text from the Wikipedia website – fuller information on the battle is available from this website

 

On 6th November 1917, after three months of fierce fighting, British and Canadian forces finally took control of the tiny village of Passchendaele in the West Flanders region of Belgium, so ending one of the bloodiest battles of World War I. With approximately a third of a million British and Allied soldiers either killed or wounded, the Battle of Passchendaele (officially the third battle of Ypres), symbolises the true horror of industrialised trench warfare.

General Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commander in Chief in France, had been convinced to launch his forces at the German submarine bases along the Belgian coast in an attempt to reduce the massive shipping losses then being suffered by the Royal Navy. General Haig also believed that the German army was close to collapse and that a major offensive … “just one more push”, could hasten the end the war.

Thus the offensive at Passchendaele was launched on the 18th July 1917 with a bombardment of the German lines involving 3,000 guns. In the 10 days that followed, it is estimated that over 4 1/4 million shells were fired. Many of these would have been filled by the brave Lasses of Barnbow.

The actual infantry assault followed at 03.50 on 31st July, but far from collapsing, the German Fourth Army fought well and restricted the main British advance to relatively small gains.

Ben Johnson. “The Battle of Passchendaele,” on the Historic UK website Nd [Online] Cited 28/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Destruction Passchendaele' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Destruction Passchendaele
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Destruction Passchendaele' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Destruction Passchendaele
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

 

A group of gelatin silver prints in identical format, each 145 x 200mm and each unmounted. Reverse of each image shows Frank Hurley’s negative number in pencil, and ten with an additional contemporary manuscript caption in ink, (clearly written by an eyewitness) as follows: St Quentin Canal; Passchendaele Stunt. Duck walk track; 48th Battallion awaiting orders to “Hop” in the Big Drive; Big 15″ gun emplacement – Germans destroyed same when compelled to evacuate; A row of Howitzers of 105th Battery behind a cut bank near Bray; 4th Division Sports Races. Note the Book Makers; Armoured Cars; The 27th & 28th Battns. having a rest & meal behind the banks before “going in” at Mt. St. Quentin Sept 1 1918; Dead Fritz Machine Gunner & Gun 8 August ’18; One of the biggest guns captured in the War. Captured by Australians, 15″ destroyed before Fritz evacuated. …

A substantial archive of photographs by Australia’s pre-eminent war photographer, Frank Hurley (1885-1962). Among them are some of Hurley’s most famous images, including his view of Hell Fire Corner on the Menin Road, “the most dangerous place on the Western Front” and the ruined Cathedral of Ypres, seen from the Cloth Hall, both taken during the 3rd battle of Ypres in 1917.

From mid 1917 to early September 1918 the Australian photographer and adventurer Frank Hurley, who had already achieved fame for his Antarctic photographs taken on Douglas Mawson’s expedition, served on the Western Front as an official war photographer in the AIF, with the honorary rank of captain. His dramatic images vividly capture the carnage and atmosphere in perhaps the most brutalising theatre of war in the history of human conflict. Hurley’s photographs featured in the exhibition Australian War Pictures and Photographs, staged in London in 1918.

Anonymous text. “An Archive of Photographs Documenting the Experience of Soldiers of the AIF on the Western Front By Frank Hurley,” on the Lawsons website 7th December 2020 [Online] Cited 25/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Camped out near Ypres' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Camped out near Ypres (Third Battle of Ypres / Battle of Passchendaele)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Ruins Ypres' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Ruins Ypres (Third Battle of Ypres / Battle of Passchendaele)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

 

I’m afraid that I’m becoming callous to many of the extraordinary sights and sounds that take place around me, and things which astounded me when I landed, now seem quite commonplace.

It is a weird, awful and terrible sight; yet somehow wildly beautiful. For my part, Ypres as it now is, has a curious fascination and aesthetically is far more interesting than the Ypres that was.

.
~ Excerpt from Frank Hurley’s diary

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Ypres' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Ypres (Third Battle of Ypres / Battle of Passchendaele)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Australian Field Gun Ypres 1917'

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Australian Field Gun Ypres 1917 (Third Battle of Ypres / Battle of Passchendaele)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

Australian artillery gunners hard at work behind their 18 pounder field gun.

 

 

QF 18-pounder gun

The Ordnance QF 18-pounder, or simply 18-pounder gun, was the standard British Empire field gun of the First World War-era. It formed the backbone of the Royal Field Artillery during the war, and was produced in large numbers. It was used by British Forces in all the main theatres, and by British troops in Russia in 1919. Its calibre (84 mm) and shell weight were greater than those of the equivalent field guns in French (75 mm) and German (77 mm) service. It was generally horse drawn until mechanisation in the 1930s.

The first versions were introduced in 1904. Later versions remained in service with British forces until early 1942. During the interwar period, the 18-pounder was developed into the early versions of the equally famous Ordnance QF 25-pounder, which would form the basis of the British artillery forces during and after the Second World War in much the same fashion as the 18-pounder had during the First.

Text from the Wikipedia website – for more information about the field gun please see the website

 

The Gun

The Quick Firing (QF) 18 Pounder was the principle Field Gun of the British Army in World War One. The gun saw service in every theatre of the Great War. Its calibre of 84mm and shell weight made it more brutal and destructive than the French 75mm and German 77mm. Its ammunition had the shell combined with the cartridge thus giving it the description of ‘quick firing’.

The gun and its ammunition limber were towed by a team of six light draught horses. A driver was allocated to each two horse team and rode the left horse of each pair. The two wheeled ammunition limber was hooked up to the horses and the trail of the gun was hooked to the limber. Further to this, each gun had two additional ammunition limbers towed by their own team. The photograph below illustrates the standard horse drawn configuration.

The gun detachments, led by the detachment sergeant on his own horse, rode into action either on the horses or on the limber. During the early stages of the war, an ammunition limber was positioned on the left of the gun, but as the war progressed and larger quantities of ammunition were being used, stockpiles of ammunition were dumped in pits next to the guns.

 

The Australian History

The 18 pounder gun was introduced into Australian service in 1906 and continued to be used until 1945. It was the standard field gun in service until 1940 when it began to be replaced by the 25 pounder gun. When World War 1 commenced there were 116 18-pounder guns in Australia and 76 of these were sent to Gallipoli and France during the war. In addition further guns were purchased to replace damaged guns and also to supply the increasing number of gun batteries in the AIF. It is estimated some 500 guns were obtained in all. 116 were brought back to Australia. Today only seven of this early model remain of which three are updated with pneumatic tyres and three are Museum items.

Anonymous text. “The 18 Pounder Project,” on the Royal Australian Artillery Historical Company website Nd [Online] Cited 26/03/2022

 

18 Pounder field gun

 

The RAAHC 18 Pounder, before restoration

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Shell hole, Ypres' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Shell hole, Ypres (Third Battle of Ypres / Battle of Passchendaele)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'The ruined Cathedral of Ypres, seen from the Cloth Hall, taken during the 3rd battle of Ypres in 1917'

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
The ruined Cathedral of Ypres, seen from the Cloth Hall, taken during the 3rd battle of Ypres in 1917 (Third Battle of Ypres / Battle of Passchendaele)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

Lawsons title: Destroyed Ruined Cathedral Ypres (no text on rear of print)
Australian War Memorial title: An unidentified Australian soldier looking at a portion of the ruined Cathedral at Ypres

 

 

To drive the Boche from Ypres, it was necessary to practically raze the town; and now that we hold it we are shelled in return, but shelling now makes little difference, for the fine buildings and churches are scarce left stone on stone.

Roaming amongst the domestic ruins made me sad. Here and there were fragments of toys: what a source of happiness they once were.

The strafed trees were coming back to life and budding, and there beside a great shell crater blossomed a single rose. How out of place it seemed amidst all this ravage. I took compassion on it and plucked it – The last rose of Ypres.

.
~ Frank Hurley Diary September 3, 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Evening by the Cloth Hall, Ypres' 18th July - 6th November 1917

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Evening by the Cloth Hall, Ypres (Third Battle of Ypres / Battle of Passchendaele)
18th July – 6th November 1917
Gelatin silver print

 

Lawsons title: After the battle at Ypres (no text on verso of print)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) '"Anzac" tank in the mud' 1917-1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
“Anzac” tank in the mud
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title, no text on back of print

 

 

The ‘Anzac’ blockhouse on which Lieutenant Arthur Hull, 18th Battalion AIF, placed the Australian flag on 20 September 1917. When the battalion attacked this position the German garrison was attempting to evacuate the blockhouse, dragging their two machine-guns with them. The Germans were overpowered and captured. (AWM E02321)

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

A pillbox known as Anzac Strong Post, captured by Australian troops in the attack of the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions, on 20 September 1917, and on which they hoisted an Australian flag. To this position there subsequently came an enemy messenger dog with messages to a German officer, telling of the Australian attack and instructing him to hold out at all costs. The dog was killed by shellfire later in the day, and the flag was destroyed, for the pillbox suffered many direct hits from the enemy’s high explosive shells. This photograph was taken a week later. Note the ANZAC sign and the rifles leaning against the pill box.

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'One of the biggest guns captured in the War. Captured by Australians, 15" destroyed before Fritz evacuated' 1917-1918 (recto)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
One of the biggest guns captured in the War. Captured by Australians, 15″ destroyed before Fritz evacuated (recto)
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'One of the biggest guns captured in the War. Captured by Australians, 15" destroyed before Fritz evacuated' 1917-1918 (verso)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
One of the biggest guns captured in the War. Captured by Australians, 15″ destroyed before Fritz evacuated (verso)
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Big 15" Gun Emplacement – Germans destroyed same when compelled to Evacuate. Photo shows the muzzle of this particular Pea Shooter' 1917-1918 (recto)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Big 15″ Gun Emplacement – Germans destroyed same when compelled to Evacuate. Photo shows the muzzle of this particular Pea Shooter (recto)
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Probably the reverse angle of the same gun in the photograph above

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Big 15" Gun Emplacement – Germans destroyed same when compelled to Evacuate. Photo shows the muzzle of this particular Pea Shooter' 1917-1918 (verso)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Big 15″ Gun Emplacement – Germans destroyed same when compelled to Evacuate. Photo shows the muzzle of this particular Pea Shooter (verso)
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Armoured cars' 1917-1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Armoured cars held up for a time on the main Harbonnieres Road, by fallen trees
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Lawsons title: Armoured cars (text on back of print)

 

 

“An armoured car, carrying a French flag, moving up the main Amiens Road from Warfusee Abancourt during the advance of the 15th Australian Infantry Brigade. The two soldiers on the right are unidentified.”

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

This appears to be an Austin 1918 pattern car, probably belonging to the 17th (Armoured Car) Battalion of the Tank Corps. This unit was in action in France from March of 1918. The flag is not a French Tricolor, but rather a two-colour signal flag – probably red and white.

For more information on the Austin Armoured Car please see the Wikipedia website

 

The last, and probably most familiar vehicle in the Austin line up, the Austin 3rd Series (Improved)/4th Series Armoured Car, yet again closely followed upon it’s immediate precursor, the Austin 3rd Series car. And like all its predecessors, including the “older” Austin 1st Series, and Austin 2nd Series Armoured Cars, it too was built for use by Russian forces. However, due to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, most sources state that none of the 4th Series vehicles were used by the Russians*. The approximately 70 completed and subsequently built cars were acquired by the British Army and used fairly successfully by them, most notably by the 17th Battalion Tank Corps in 1918.

The 4th Series cars are fairly similar to the 3rd Series vehicles, except for a very significant change, the fitting of a strengthened suspension, which included dual rear wheels. The new suspension would aid the cars in improving their mobility, although never to a point of them being considered especially agile. In addition, some cars used in the later stage of the war / post-war were mounted with solid disc wheels. Finally, the 4th Series vehicles were also armed with British weapons instead of the Maxim machine guns favoured by the Russians. Sources state that both .303 Vickers and .303 Hotchkiss machine guns were mounted at various times.

Anonymous text. “Austin 3rd (Improved)/4th Series Armored Car,” on the War Wheels website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter
July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (detail)
July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) '[Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Dead Confederate sharpshooter in "The devil's den."]' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
[Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Dead Confederate sharpshooter in “The devil’s den”]
A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep, Gettysburg, July 1863

July 1863

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Dead Fritz Machine Gunner and Gun 8 August 18' (recto)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Dead Fritz Machine Gunner and Gun 8 August 18 (recto)
8 August 1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Dead Fritz Machine Gunner and Gun 8 August 18' (verso)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Dead Fritz Machine Gunner and Gun 8 August 18 (verso)
8 August 1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'The 108th Howitzer Battery in action at Bray using 4.5 inch Mk I Howitzers. The troops of the 3rd Australian Division whom the Battery was supporting were then engaged beyond Suzanne' 26th August 1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
The 108th Howitzer Battery in action at Bray using 4.5 inch Mk I Howitzers. The troops of the 3rd Australian Division whom the Battery was supporting were then engaged beyond Suzanne (recto)
26th August 1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Lawsons title: A row of Howitzers of the 105th Battery behind a cut bank rear Bray (text on back of print)

 

 

The 108th Howitzer Battery in action at Bray using 4.5 inch Mk I Howitzers. The troops of the 3rd Australian Division whom the Battery was supporting were then engaged beyond Suzanne. Identified, left to right: 21492 Corporal J. F. Yates MM (partially obscured by the gun); 21437 Bombardier John Thomas Wharton MM (shovelling); 37417 Gunner (Gnr) Charles Edward Harnett (back to camera); 24557 Gnr C. F. H. Ipsen (looking up); 23094 Gnr John Southwell (extreme right foreground); 32887 Gnr Charles Edward Dun (in the background between Harnett and Ipsen); 23073 Gnr A. McDonald (directly behind Ipsen); 32962 Gnr Stockley (behind McDonald).

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Oline] Cited 27/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'The 108th Howitzer Battery in action at Bray using 4.5 inch Mk I Howitzers. The troops of the 3rd Australian Division whom the Battery was supporting were then engaged beyond Suzanne' 26th August 1918 (verso)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
A row of Howitzers of the 105th Battery behind a cut bank rear Bray (verso)
26th August 1918
Gelatin silver print

 

 

QF 4.5-inch howitzer

The Ordnance QF 4.5-inch howitzer was the standard British Empire field (or ‘light’) howitzer of the First World War era. It replaced the BL 5-inch howitzer and equipped some 25% of the field artillery. It entered service in 1910 and remained in service through the interwar period and was last used in the field by British forces in early 1942. It was generally horse drawn until mechanisation in the 1930s.

The QF 4.5-inch (110 mm) howitzer was used by British and Commonwealth forces in most theatres, by Russia and by British troops in Russia in 1919. Its calibre (114 mm) and hence shell weight were greater than those of the equivalent German field howitzer (105 mm); France did not have an equivalent. In the Second World War it equipped some units of the BEF and British, Australian, New Zealand and South African batteries in East Africa and the Middle and Far East.

Text from the Wikipedia website – for more information on the gun please see the website

 

British Q.F. 4.5 inch howitzer Mk II

 

British Q.F. 4.5 inch howitzer Mk II

 

 

British Q.F. 4.5 inch howitzer Mk II

British Q.F. 4.5 inch howitzer Mk II. A breech-loading artillery piece fitted with a sliding breech block, axial recoil system, splinter-proof shield, and steel box carriage. The gun is fitted with two wooden spoked ‘Wheels 2nd Class ‘C’ No 45′, and is equipped with drag ropes, spare shovels, rammer, and leather sight and tool boxes. …

 

History / Summary

The QF [Quick Fire] 4.5 inch howitzer was initially brought into service in 1909. The Mark II was introduced in 1917, rectifying a breechblock design defect in the earlier Mark I. The gun was capable of firing a 16 kilogram shell to a range of almost 7 kilometres, however it was its capacity to fire at elevations of up to 45 degrees that made the weapon so effective. The high elevation allowed the gun to lob shells almost vertically into areas protected by traditional fortifications. The heavier 4.5 inch high explosive shell was found to be far more effective than the 18 pounder in damaging enemy parapets and trenches and thus found increasing use for this purpose.

Over 3,300 4.5 inch howitzers were manufactured during the First World War. The Mark II design remained in service into the Second World War when they were finally replaced by the QF 25-Pounder.

Text and photograph from the Australian War Memorial website [Online] Cited 26/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) '4th Division Sports Races. Note the Book Makers' 1917-1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
4th Division Sports Races. Note the Book Makers (recto)
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) '4th Division Sports Races. Note the Book Makers' 1917-1918 (verso)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
4th Division Sports Races. Note the Book Makers (verso)
1917-1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'The 27th and 28th Btn's having a rest and meal behind the banks before "going in" at Mt St Quentin Sept 1, 1918' (recto)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
The 27th and 28th Btn’s having a rest and meal behind the banks before “going in” at Mt St Quentin Sept 1, 1918 (recto)
September 1, 1918
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Battle of Mont Saint-Quentin

The Battle of Mont Saint-Quentin was a battle on the Western Front during World War I. As part of the Allied Hundred Days Offensive on the Western Front in the late summer of 1918, the Australian Corps crossed the Somme River on the night of 31 August and broke the German lines at Mont Saint-Quentin and Péronne. The British Fourth Army’s commander, General Henry Rawlinson, described the Australian advances of 31 August – 4 September as the greatest military achievement of the war. During the battle Australian troops stormed, seized and held the key height of Mont Saint-Quentin (overlooking Péronne), a pivotal German defensive position on the line of the Somme.

 

Battle

The offensive was planned by General John Monash; Monash planned a high-risk frontal assault which required the Australian 2nd Division to cross a series of marshes to attack the heights. This plan failed when the assaulting troops could not cross the marshes. After this initial setback, Monash manoeuvred his divisions in the only free manoeuvre battle of any consequence undertaken by the Australians on the Western Front.

Australians of the 2nd Division crossed to the north bank of the Somme River on the evening of 30 August. At 5 am on 31 August, supported by artillery, two significantly undermanned Australian battalions charged up Mont St Quentin, ordered by Monash to “scream like bushrangers”. The Germans quickly surrendered and the Australians continued to the main German trench-line. In the rear, other Australians crossed the Somme by a bridge which Australian engineers had saved and repaired. The Australians were unable to hold their gains on Mont St Quentin and German reserves regained the crest. However, the Australians held on just below the summit and next day it was recaptured and firmly held. On that day also, 1 September, Australian forces broke into Péronne and took most of the town. The next day it completely fell into Australian hands. In three days the Australians endured 3,000 casualties but ensured a general German withdrawal eastwards back to the Hindenburg Line.

 

Aftermath

Looking back after the event, Monash accounted for the success by the wonderful gallantry of the men, the rapidity with which the plan was carried out, and the sheer daring of the attempt. In his Australian Victories in France, Monash pays tribute to the commander of the 2nd Division, Major-General Charles Rosenthal, who was in charge of the operation. But Monash and his staff were responsible for the conception of the project and the working out of the plans.

The Allied victory at the Battle of Mont Saint Quentin dealt a strong blow to five German divisions, including the elite 2nd Guards Division. As the position overlooked much of the terrain east of Mont St. Quentin, it guaranteed that the Germans would not be able to stop the allies west of the Hindenburg Line (the same position from which the Germans had launched their offensive in the spring). A total of 2,600 prisoners were taken at a cost of slightly over 3,000 casualties.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'The 27th and 28th Btn's having a rest and meal behind the banks before "going in" at Mt St Quentin Sept 1, 1918' (verso)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
The 27th and 28th Btn’s having a rest and meal behind the banks before “going in” at Mt St Quentin Sept 1, 1918 (verso)
September 1, 1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'St Quentin Canal' 1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
St Quentin Canal
1918
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The Battle of St. Quentin Canal

The Battle of St. Quentin Canal was a pivotal battle of World War I that began on 29 September 1918 and involved British, Australian and American forces operating as part of the British Fourth Army under the overall command of General Sir Henry Rawlinson. Further north, part of the British Third Army also supported the attack. South of the Fourth Army’s 19 km (12 mi) front, the French First Army launched a coordinated attack on a 9.5 km (6 mi) front. The objective was to break through one of the most heavily defended stretches of the German Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line), which in this sector used the St Quentin Canal as part of its defences. The assault achieved its objectives (though not according to the planned timetable), resulting in the first full breach of the Hindenburg Line, in the face of heavy German resistance. In concert with other attacks of the Grand Offensive along the length of the line, Allied success convinced the German high command that there was little hope of an ultimate German victory.

Text from the Wikipedia website – for more information on the battle please see the website

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'A tank put out of action when crossing a deep communication trench running from a dugout near the St Quentin Canal' 25 September 1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
A tank put out of action when crossing a deep communication trench running from a dugout near the St Quentin Canal
25 September 1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Lawsons title: No 18 Tank (no text on back of print)

This is a British Mark IV tank (female)

 

 

A tank put out of action when crossing a deep communication trench running from a dugout near the St Quentin Canal to the main Hindenburg Line. Land mines, scattered about the Hindenburg trenches and the specially directed anti-tank gun fire caused heavy tank casualties. Notice the crew entry doors beneath the side sponsons.

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

British Mk IV tank

The Mark IV (pronounced Mark four) was a British tank of the First World War. Introduced in 1917, it benefited from significant developments of the Mark I tank (the intervening designs being small batches used for training). The main improvements were in armour, the re-siting of the fuel tank and ease of transport. A total of 1,220 Mk IV were built: 420 “Males”, 595 “Females” and 205 Tank Tenders (unarmed vehicles used to carry supplies), which made it the most numerous British tank of the war. The Mark IV was first used in mid 1917 at the Battle of Messines Ridge. It remained in British service until the end of the war, and a small number served briefly with other combatants afterwards.

The “Male” tank was a category of tank prevalent in World War I. As opposed to the five machine guns of the “Female” version of the Mark I tank, the male version of the Mark I had a QF 6 pounder 6 cwt Hotchkiss and three machine guns.

 

Production

The Mark IV was built by six manufacturers: Metropolitan (the majority builder), Fosters of Lincoln, Armstrong-Whitworth, Coventry Ordnance Works, William Beardmore & Company and Mirrlees, Watson & Co., with the main production being in 1917. The first order was placed for 1,000 tanks with Metropolitan in August 1916. It was then cancelled, reinstated and then modified between August and December 1916. The other manufacturers, contracted for no more than 100 tanks each, were largely immune to the conflict between Stern and the War Office.

 

Service

The Mark IV was first used in large numbers on 7 June 1917, during the British assault on Messines Ridge. Crossing dry but heavily cratered terrain, many of the 60-plus Mark IVs lagged behind the infantry, but several made important contributions to the battle. By comparison, at the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele) from 31 July, where the preliminary 24-day long barrage had destroyed all drainage and heavy rain had soaked the field, the tanks found it heavy going and contributed little; those that sank into the swampy ground were immobilised and became easy targets for enemy artillery.

Nearly 460 Mark IV tanks were used during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, showing that a large concentration of tanks could quickly overcome even the most sophisticated trench systems.

In the aftermath of the German spring offensive on the Western Front, the first tank-to-tank battle was between Mk IV tanks and German A7Vs in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918.

About 40 captured Mark IVs were employed by the Germans as Beutepanzerwagen (the German word Beute means “loot” or “booty”) with a crew of 12. These formed four tank companies from December 1917. Some of these had their six pounders replaced by a German equivalent.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Peter Trimming. '1917 British Mark IV tank (female) on display in Ashford, Kent, England' 19 March 2013

 

Peter Trimming
1917 British Mark IV tank (female) on display in Ashford, Kent, England
19 March 2013
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Members of the 38th Battalion in Dog Trench near Guillemont Farm' 29 September 1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)?
Members of the 38th Battalion in Dog Trench near Guillemont Farm
29 September 1918
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title: Diggers taking a break (no text on back of print)

 

 

The Australian War Memorial website notes that this photograph is by George Hubert Wilkins.

A group from the 38th Battalion, supporting the 27th US Division in the attack on the Hindenburg Line, pause after being held up by heavy enemy machine gun fire, 29 September 1918.

 

Members of the 38th Battalion in Dog Trench near Guillemont Farm, in which they were held by machine gun fire during the attack on the Hindenburg Line, near Bony. Identified, left to right: 5918 Private (Pte) Binion; 967 Sergeant A. E. Pegler MM; 3020 Corporal H. Amiet MM; Captain C. H. Peters MC; unidentified soldier (almost completely obscured by Buckland); 763 Company Sergeant Major (CSM) R. J. Buckland MM (smoking a pipe); 6217 Pte G. Bain.

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Members of the 38th Battalion in Dog Trench near Guillemont Farm' 29 September 1918 (detail)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Members of the 38th Battalion in Dog Trench near Guillemont Farm (detail)
29 September 1918
Gelatin silver print

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Rest after battle' 1917-1918

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Water filled trench, Passchendaele
1917
Gelatin silver print

Lawsons title: Rest after battle (no text on back of print)

 

 

A communication trench previously used by the Australian troops at Westhoek Ridge, in the Ypres section, during the attack of the 2nd Division further forward, near Passchendaele Ridge. Two unidentified members of the 2nd Division are seen watching the shellfire (not in view).

Text from the Australian War Memorial website Nd [Online] Cited 27/03/2022

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962) 'Rest after battle' 1917-1918 (detail)

 

Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Water filled trench, Passchendaele (detail)
1917
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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01
Mar
16

Exhibition: ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Exhibition dates: 18th September 2015 – 13th March 2016

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ulysses S. Grant' (1822-1885) c. 1864

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
c. 1864
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

THIS IS THE FIRST OF THREE POSTINGS ABOUT (MAINLY AMERICAN) 19th CENTURY PHOTOGRAPHY.

This monster posting is both fascinating and gruesome by turns. They were certainly dark fields, stained crimson with the blood of men of opposing armies, left bloated and rotting in the hot sun. Can you imagine the smell one or two days later when Alexander Gardner arrived to photograph those very fields.

Particularly in the early war years (1861-62).”Gardner has often had his work misattributed to Brady.” Gardner worked for Mathew Brady, running his Washington office and working in the field (as many other operatives did) during the early part of the Civil War. Gardner’s negatives were published under the banner of the studio of Brady. He finished working for Brady in 1862 before setting up his own studio in May 1863 a few blocks from Brady’s Washington studio. This fluidity of authorship continues later in the war when Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s photographs, an assistant to Gardner, appeared under the masthead of Gardner’s studio. Evidence of this can be observed in the image Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (July 1863, below) where, at least, Sullivan is credited with the negative at bottom left under the image.

Gardner changed the face of photography. He endowed it with an immediacy and energy that it had previously been lacking. His photographs of the battlefield brought the action “presently” into the lounge rooms of the well-heeled and, by engravings taken from the photographs, into newspapers of the time. His series of photographs of the hanging of the conspirators convicted of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination are “considered one of the first examples of photojournalism ever recorded.” But he wasn’t above rearranging the scene to his liking, as in the moving of the body in Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (July 1863, below) to make a more advantageous “view” … much like Roger Fenton’s moving of the cannonballs in his epic photograph The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855). Today this would be frowned upon, but in the era these photographs were taken it seemed the most “natural” thing to do, to make a better photograph, and nothing was thought of it.

The exhibition text states, “But his arrangement of the corpse reflects how difficult it was for Gardner and his contemporaries to process the reality of mass casualties in which the dead became anonymous. Caught at a transitional moment, Gardner did not trust the images his camera captured. That this photographic construction would be more marketable to a public still steeped in Victorian sentimentality only adds to Gardner’s malfeasance.” Malfeasance is a strong word. Malfeasance is defined as an affirmative act, “the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law; wrongdoing (used especially of an act in violation of a public trust).” (Dictionary.com) The exhibition text also states that “His actions are unforgivable from both a moral and artistic point of view,” and are a blot on Gardner’s career.

I don’t agree. Of course Gardner trusted the images that his camera captured, he was a photographer! This is a ludicrous statement… it is just that, arriving days after the battle, he wanted compositions that created news and views that were memorable. His affirmative action was not illegal or contrary to the law. Although morally it could be seen as a violation of public trust he was reporting the depravities of war within the first 25 years of the beginning of photography, and he was trying to get across to the general public the lonely desperation of death. In that era, at the very beginning of photographic reportage, who was to tell him it was wrong or illegal? We view these actions through retrospective eyes knowing that this kind of re-arrangement would not be tolerated today (but it is, in the digital manipulation of images!) and the condemnation of today is just a hollow statement. Photography has ALWAYS re-presented reality – through the hand of the author, through the eyes of the viewer.

Other interesting things to note in the posting are:

  • the mechanical overlaying of colour in the stereograph View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (1862, below) where the colour is applied subtly in the left hand photograph while in the right hand image, the colour almost obliterates the figures
  • the attitude of the participants in Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory (1868, below). The military and civilian representatives of the government sit at right on boxes, four of them staring directly into the camera aware they are being photographed for prosperity (General William T. Sherman does not, looking pensive with his hands clasped) while on the left, the Native American Indian representatives sit on the ground wrapped in blankets with the backs of two interpreters towards the camera. They do not make eye contact with the camera except for one man, who has turned his head towards the camera and gives it a defiant stare (perhaps I am imagining, but I think not)

.
The strongest photographs in this posting, other than the masterpiece Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter are not the empirical scenes of the battlefield but two portraits: Ulysses S. Grant (1864, below) and the war weary “cracked plate” image of Abraham Lincoln (1865, below). Both are memorable not just for the low depth of field or the “capture” of remarkable leaders of men during war but for something essentially interior to themselves – their contemplation of self. With Grant you can feel the steely determination (this in the second last year of the war) and, yet, comprehend his statement,

“Though I have been trained as a soldier, and participated in many battles, there never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword”

in this image. What must be done has to be done, but by God I wish it wasn’t so. The eyes have it.

With the Lincoln portrait – of which Gardner only pulled one print from the plate before he destroyed it, making this the rarest of images – the charismatic leader is shown with craggy, war weariness. The contextless space around the body is larger than is normal at this time, allowing us to focus on the “thing itself” … and then we have that prophetic crack. “During this sitting, Gardner created this portrait by accident,” says the text from the exhibition. How do you create a portrait like this by accident? With the length of the exposure, Lincoln would have had to remain immobile for seconds… not something that you do by accident. No, both Gardner and Lincoln knew that a portrait was being taken. This is previsualisation (depth of field, space around and above the body) at its finest. That the plate was accidentally cracked and then discarded in no way makes this portrait an accident. If this is a portrait of, “Lincoln between life and death, between his role as a historical actor and the mystical figure that he would become with his assassination,” it is also the face of a man that you could almost reach out and touch!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, Washington for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

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Gardner has often had his work misattributed to Brady, and despite his considerable output, historians have tended to give Gardner less than full recognition for his documentation of the Civil War. Lincoln dismissed McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862, and Gardner’s role as chief army photographer diminished. About this time, Gardner ended his working relationship with Brady, probably in part because of Brady’s practice of attributing his employees’ work as “Photographed by Brady”. That winter, Gardner followed General Ambrose Burnside, photographing the Battle of Fredericksburg. Next, he followed General Joseph Hooker. In May 1863, Gardner and his brother James opened their own studio in Washington, D.C, hiring many of Brady’s former staff. Gardner photographed the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863) and the Siege of Petersburg (June 1864-April 1865) during this time.

In 1866, Gardner published a two-volume work, Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. Each volume contained 50 hand-mounted original prints. The book did not sell well. Not all photographs were Gardner’s; he credited the negative producer and the positive print printer. As the employer, Gardner owned the work produced, as with any modern-day studio. The sketchbook contained work by Timothy H. O’Sullivan, James F. Gibson, John Reekie, William Pywell, James Gardner (his brother), John Wood, George N. Barnard, David Knox and David Woodbury, among others. Among his photographs of Abraham Lincoln were some considered to be the last to be taken of the President, four days before his assassination, although later this claim was found to be incorrect, while the pictures were actually taken in February 1865, the last one being on the 5th of February. Gardner would photograph Lincoln on a total of seven occasions while Lincoln was alive. He also documented Lincoln’s funeral, and photographed the conspirators involved (with John Wilkes Booth) in Lincoln’s assassination. Gardner was the only photographer allowed at their execution by hanging, photographs of which would later be translated into woodcuts for publication in Harper’s Weekly.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

 

 

Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872

His photographs have “a terrible distinctness.” So wrote the New York Times about the work of trailblazing photographer Alexander Gardner (1821-1882). In a career spanning the critical years of the nineteenth century, Gardner created images that documented the crisis of the Union, the Civil War, the United States’ expansion into the western territories, and the beginnings of the Indian Wars.

As one of a pioneering generation of American photographers, Gardner helped revolutionise photography, both in his mastery of techniques and by recognising that the camera’s eye could be fluid and mobile. In addition to creating portraits of leaders and generals – he was Abraham Lincoln’s favourite photographer – Gardner followed the Union army, taking indelible images of battlefields and military campaigning. His battlefield photographs – including those of the newly dead – created a public sensation, contributing to the change under way in American culture from romanticism to realism, a realism that was the hallmark of his work.

At war’s end, Gardner went west. Fascinated, like many artists, by American Indians, he took a series of stunning images of the western tribes, setting set these figures in their native grounds: these photographs are the pictorial evocation of the seemingly limitless western land and sky. He also took images of the Indians in Washington, D.C., where they traveled to negotiate preservation of their way of life. Gardner’s portraits of Native Americans are dignified likenesses of a resistant people fighting for their way of life.

In their documentary clarity and startling precision, Alexander Gardner’s photographs – taken in the studio, on battlefields, and in the western territories – are a summons back into a darkly turbulent and heroic period in American history.”

Text from the exhibition website

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington with, in the bottom photograph, two people looking at a photograph of Lieutenant General Grant.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ulysses S. Grant' (1822-1885) c. 1864 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Ulysses S. Grant (detail)
c. 1864
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

There is a story that when Ulysses S. Grant traveled east in 1864 to take command of all the Union armies, the desk clerk at Washington’s Willard Hotel did not recognise him and assigned him to a mean, nondescript room. (When Grant identified himself, he was upgraded to a suite.) The anecdote points out that likenesses were not yet widely distributed, even after the advent of photography. It was possible for famous people to remain unidentified. But fame meant that one had one’s photograph taken, as Grant did in this image Gardner took after the western general arrived in Washington. Grant was coming off a string of successes in the West, including the successful siege of Vicksburg, which made him the inevitable choice for overall command. In Grant, Lincoln finally found a general who would consistently engage the enemy’s forces. Indicative of Grant’s stature, Lincoln bestowed on him the rare title of lieutenant general, a rank previously held only by George Washington. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln
1861
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln (detail)
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

This portrait of Abraham Lincoln was taken on February 24, 1861, just before his inauguration on March 4. It has been conjectured that Lincoln is hiding his right hand in his lap because it was swollen from shaking so many hands during his travel from Illinois to Washington. This is also the first studio image depicting Lincoln with a full beard, which he had famously grown between the election and inauguration, purportedly at the behest of a little girl who wrote him from New York that it would improve his appearance. Lincoln was early to recognise the power of the relatively new medium of photography to mould and shape a public persona. He credited a photograph by Mathew Brady, taken when he came to New York City to present himself to Republican Party power brokers, as helping to confirm his suitability for the presidency by showing him well-dressed and dignified. Interestingly, the Brady photograph shows Lincoln standing; in this portrait he is seated, as if ready to begin work as president.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington showing the “Imperial” glass-plate negative of President Abraham Lincoln from his August 9, 1863, sitting at Gardner’s Washington studio, with a print from the negative on the wall behind.

 

 

This exhibition provides the rare opportunity to display the means by which a photographic image was produced on paper: the glass-plate negative that was the “film” of early photography. Because of their fragility, surviving glass-plate negatives of this size (the so-called “imperial”) are rare: this is one of two of Lincoln that have survived and dates from his August 9, 1863, sitting at Gardner’s Washington studio. The process Gardner used was relatively new to America and consisted of hand-coating a glass plate with collodion – a syrupy mixture of guncotton dissolved in alcohol and ether to which bromide and iodine salts had been added. The difficulty for the photographer was that the glass plate had to be coated with collodion, sensitised in a bath of silver nitrate, and exposed in the camera immediately, while the emulsion was still damp. Gardner was acknowledged as a master in evenly coating the plate, which resulted in prints of exceptional clarity.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln
1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

The “cracked-plate” image of Abraham Lincoln, taken by Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865, is one of the most important and evocative photographs in American history. In preparing for his second inaugural, Lincoln had a series of photographs taken at Gardner’s studio. During this sitting, Gardner created this portrait by accident: at some point, possibly when the glass-plate negative was heated to receive a coat of varnish, a crack appeared in the upper half of the plate. Gardner pulled a single print and then discarded the plate, so only one such portrait exists.

The portrait represents a radical departure from Gardner’s usual crisp empiricism. The shallow depth of field created when Gardner moved his camera in for a close-up yielded a photograph whose focus is confined to the plane of Lincoln’s cheeks, while the remainder of the image appears diffused and even out of focus. Lincoln is careworn and tired, his face grooved by the emotional shocks of war. Yet his face also bears a small smile, perhaps as he contemplates the successful conclusion of hostilities and the restoration of the Union. This is Lincoln between life and death, between his role as a historical actor and the mystical figure that he would become with his assassination. Although Lincoln looked forward to his second term, we know, as he could not, that he will soon be assassinated. This image inextricably links history and myth, creating one of the most powerful American portraits.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln (detail)
1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Smithsonian’s First Major Retrospective of Alexander Gardner’s Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery

Exhibition Will Highlight Gardner’s Civil War Photographs, Including His One-of-a-Kind Image of President Lincoln

Considered America’s first modern photographer, just as the Civil War is considered the first modern war, Alexander Gardner created dramatic and vivid photographs of battlefields and played a crucial role in the transformation of American culture by injecting a sobering note of realism to American photography.

“Gardner’s photographs showed how the new medium and art form could develop to meet the challenges of modern society,” said Kim Sajet, director of the Portrait Gallery. “These are a record of the sacrifice and loss that occurred in the great national struggle over the Union. Our photograph of Lincoln by him, known as the ‘cracked-plate,’ is the museum’s ‘Mona Lisa.'” [see above]

The first section of the exhibition will highlight Gardner’s Civil War photographs, and his role as President Abraham Lincoln’s preferred photographer. Gardner photographed the president many times, recording the impact of the war on his face. Among these images is the “cracked-plate” portrait, a photograph that is arguably the most iconic image of Lincoln. In addition, the exhibition will encompass Gardner’s portraits of other prominent statesmen and generals, as well as private citizens.

Also in the exhibition are Gardner’s landscapes of the American West and portraits of American Indians. These document the course of American expansion as postwar settlers moved westward, challenged by geography and Indian tribes resistant to losing their ancestral homelands. Gardner’s landscapes are evocative studies of almost limitless horizons, giving a sense of the emptiness of western space. These are contrasted with his detailed portraits of Indian chiefs and tribal delegations.

Curated by David C. Ward, Portrait Gallery senior historian, and guest curator Heather Shannon, former photo archivist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, with research assistance from Sarah Campbell, this exhibition will feature more than 140 objects, including photographs, prints and books. The exhibition will be the finale of the Portrait Gallery’s seven-part series commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Press release from the National Portrait Gallery

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

On July 1, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg, nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson and his men attempted to slow the Confederate forces. A shell mangled the lieutenant’s right knee as his unit, Battery G of the Fourth U.S. Artillery, drew the attention of Confederate cannons. After amputating his leg with a pocket knife and being carried to an almshouse, Wilkeson ordered his men to return to battle. A few days later, his father, Samuel Wilkeson, a journalist, wrote home to say he had found Bayard dead “from neglect and bleeding.” On the front page of the July 6 New York Times, Samuel wrote a moving, influential, and widely circulated account of the battle. Bayard’s story and his father’s grief became symbolic of the North’s suffering, sacrifice, and righteousness. The article concludes, “oh, you dead, who at Gettysburg have baptised with your blood the second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied!”

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889) (detail)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Self-Portrait' c. 1861

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Self-Portrait
c. 1861
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

In this self-portrait taken at Mathew Brady’s Washington studio, Alexander Gardner presents himself wearing the garb of a mountain man or trapper, sporting buckskins and a fur hat; Gardner’s trademark full, ungroomed beard only adds to the frontiersman image. Gardner holds a bow and arrow while standing on Indian rugs. The image captures America’s enduring fascination with the West and adopting the garb of Native peoples. It also shows Gardner, a man about whom we know little, in disguise, hiding himself in a fictional frontier persona. Although he is acting a role, Gardner, whose family had bought land in Iowa in the antebellum period, was genuinely interested in the western lands and the fate of the Indians. In the 1860s he began his project of photographing the western tribal delegations when they came to Washington. After the Civil War he went west to photograph Indians on their native grounds.

Text from the exhibition website

 

James Gardner. 'Alexander Gardner' 1863

 

James Gardner (American born Scotland, c. 1832 – ?)
Alexander Gardner
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Larry J. West

 

James Gardner. 'Alexander Gardner' 1863 (detail)

 

James Gardner (American born Scotland, c. 1832 – ?)
Alexander Gardner (detail)
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Larry J. West

 

 

Not as flamboyantly costumed as in his first self-portrait, this image of Alexander Gardner shows him as a workingman, which was his family’s heritage back in Scotland. Gardner’s proficiency as a photographer was based in part on his manual dexterity; he was a master at coating the glass-plate negatives with collodion, which formed the plate’s light-sensitive emulsion. By the beginnings of 1863 James Gardner was working with his brother in Washington.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Rose Greenhow' (c. 1854-?) and 'Rose O'Neal Greenhow' (c. 1815-1864) 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Rose Greenhow  (c. 1854-?)
Rose O’Neal Greenhow  (c. 1815-1864)
1862
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

One of the Confederacy’s most successful female spies, Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a prominent Washington widow and a staunch southern sympathiser. The Confederacy recruited her as a spy after war erupted in 1861. Most notably, Greenhow is credited with passing along intelligence prior to the First Battle of Manassas, insuring a southern victory. Soon after, her covert activities were uncovered and she was placed under house arrest. Gardner took this photograph after “Rebel Rose” and her daughter, Little Rose, were transferred to the Old Capitol Prison in 1862. Greenhow served five months before being exiled to the South. She then traveled to Europe to promote the Confederate cause. Returning in September 1864, Greenhow drowned attempting to run the federal blockade of Wilmington, N.C. The Confederacy buried her with military honours.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (detail)
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (details of left and right photographs)
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Antietam Bridge, Maryland' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Antietam Bridge, Maryland
1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

Antietam Bridge (not to be confused with the more famous Burnside Bridge located to the south, which was the site of a confused Union attack during the Battle of Antietam’s third phase) spanned Antietam Creek, roughly in the middle of the battlefield. Before the battle, some Union troops used it to move toward the Confederate lines arrayed just outside the village of Sharpsburg. The bridge was not brought into play during the battle since George McClellan, fearful of overcommitting his troops, kept a large reserve near his headquarters at the Pry House, a reserve that would have used the bridge in its attack if it had been sent against Robert E. Lee’s lines. Unlike Burnside Bridge, the original stone Antietam Bridge, with its three arches, has not survived and has been replaced by a modern span.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862 (detail)
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

Gardner documented specialised units in the Union army, as with the Telegraphic Corps, and here with the so-called “Scouts and Guides,” who were part of the intelligence service that Allan Pinkerton ran for the Army of the Potomac. Gardner took this group portrait when he returned to the area around Antietam; Berlin (now Brunswick), Maryland, is on the Potomac, just downstream from Harpers Ferry. In his Sketchbook Gardner wrote about the hardship and dangers faced by men who frequently acted as spies and could be executed if caught: “Their faces are indexes of the character required for such hazardous work.” Gardner’s statement exemplifies how connections are drawn between appearance and personality; a photograph was seen as particularly informative psychologically.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam (detail)
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

 

The Battle of Antietam (Maryland) occurred on September 17, 1862, and it is still America’s bloodiest day, with more than 25,000 combined casualties (killed and wounded) on both sides. Despite a nearly three-to-one numerical advantage, the Union forces were unable to score a decisive victory. The heavy casualties did force Robert E. Lee to withdraw, however, ending his first invasion of the North. Gardner probably arrived at the battlefield on September 18. He took this image of dead Confederates near the Dunker Church, a focal point of the Union attack, which began shortly after 7.00 am the day before.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Gathered Together for Burial after the Battle of Antietam' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Gathered Together for Burial after the Battle of Antietam (View in Ditch on the Right Wing after the Battle of Antietam)
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

 

This photograph, probably taken on September 19, graphically exposes the savagery of the fighting that occurred at the “Sunken Road” during the second, midday phase of the Union assault on Lee’s defensive line. A worn-down cart path provided perfect cover for Confederate troops, who initially blunted the Union attack, inflicting tremendous casualties. However, once the northerners had flanked the road, southern troops were trapped and exposed to a withering fire that choked the road with their corpses; hereinafter, the “Sunken Road” was known as “Bloody Lane.”

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) and Timothy O'Sullivan (1840-1882) 'Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July, 1863' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882) and Timothy O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July, 1863
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan, from Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

General John Reynolds (1820-1863) of Pennsylvania was the highest-ranking casualty at Gettysburg. One of the Union’s best generals, Reynolds had been considered a potential replacement for George McClellan. On July 1, commanding the left wing of the Union forces, Reynolds moved his infantry forward to blunt the Confederate advance, bringing on a wholesale engagement of the two armies; his decisiveness bought time for the Union to consolidate its forces at Gettysburg. He was killed leading a charge by the Second Wisconsin just west of the town. Despite its title, it is unlikely that Gardner’s photograph depicted this spot since he did not photograph any of the sites from Gettysburg’s first day. Instead, documentary evidence indicates that it was probably taken near Rose Farm, south of the battlefield. Initially Gardner published the photograph without reference to Reynolds. That was added later when Gardner realised he had missed an opportunity and sought to capitalise on Reynolds’s heroism.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Incidents of the War: Unfit for Service at the Battle of Gettysburg' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Incidents of the War: Unfit for Service at the Battle of Gettysburg
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Gift of David L. Hack and Museum purchase, with funds from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., by exchange

 

 

After the success of his series “The Dead of Antietam,” which he had made while working for Mathew Brady, Gardner paid special attention in his Gettysburg photography to concentrate on the casualties, both human and animal. He got to the battlefield quickly, probably by July 7, as the process of burying the dead was just under way. In addition to the more than 7,000 soldiers killed, it has been estimated that more than 1,500 artillery horses died during the battle. Disposal of the horses complicated the task of clearing the land; while attempts were made to deal respectfully with human remains, the horses were collected into piles and burned. Gardner’s title for this picture may be taken as ironically low-key: the graphic image needed no rhetorical embellishments.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Panorama of Camp Winfield Scott, Yorktown, Virginia' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Panorama of Camp Winfield Scott, Yorktown, Virginia
1863
Albumen silver prints from glass negatives
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005
Image copyright: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

 

 

Gardner and his family immigrated to the United States in 1856. Finding that many friends and family members at the cooperative he had helped to form were dead or dying of tuberculosis, he stayed in New York. He initiated contact with Brady and came to work for him that year, continuing until 1862. At first, Gardner specialised in making large photographic prints, called Imperial photographs, but as Brady’s eyesight began to fail, Gardner took on increasing responsibilities. In 1858, Brady put him in charge of his Washington, D.C. gallery. (Wikipedia)

 

“Before leaving home, he had seen and admired photographs by Mathew Brady, who was already famous and prosperous as a portraitist of American presidents and statesmen. It was Brady that likely paid Gardner’s passage to New York and soon after arriving, he went to visit the famous photographer’s studio and decided to stay.

Gardner was so successful there that Brady sent him to manage his Washington, D.C., studio, and soon after that, he was photographing Abraham Lincoln as the owner of his own studio [May 1863], and about to produce his historic images of the nation’s struggle. But there was more – after Appomattox, unknown to most of those who have praised his groundbreaking photographs of the war, he went on to record the westward march of the railroads and the Native American tribes scattering around them.

When the Civil War began, Mathew Brady sent more than 20 assistants into the field to follow the Union army. All of their work, including that of Gardner and the talented Timothy O’Sullivan, was issued with the credit line of the Brady studio. Thus the public assumed that Brady himself had lugged the fragile wagonload of equipment into the field, focused the big boxy camera and captured the images. Indeed, sometimes he had. But beginning with the battle of Antietam in September 1862, Gardner determined to take a step beyond his boss and his colleagues.

It pictured a dead Confederate soldier in a rocky den [see above], with his weapon propped nearby. Photographic historian William Frassanito has compared it to other images and believes that Gardner moved that body to a more dramatic hiding place to make the famous photo. Taking such license would blend with the dramatic way his album mused over the fallen soldier: “Was he delirious with agony, or did death come slowly to his relief, while memories of home grew dearer as the field of carnage faded before him? What visions, of loved ones far away, may have hovered above his stony pillow?”

Significantly, as illustrated by that image and description, Gardner’s book spoke of himself as “the artist.” Not the photographer, journalist or artisan, but the artist, who is by definition the creator, the designer, the composer of a work. But of course rearranging reality is not necessary to tell a gripping story, as he showed conspicuously after the Lincoln assassination. First he made finely focused portraits that caught the character of many of the surviving conspirators (much earlier in 1863, he had done the slain assassin, the actor John Wilkes Booth). Then, on the day of execution, he pictured the four – Mary Surrat, David Herold, Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt – standing as if posing on the scaffold, while their hoods and ropes were adjusted. Then their four bodies are seen dangling below while spectators look on from the high wall of the Washington Arsenal – as fitting a last scene as any artist might imagine.

After all Gardner had seen and accomplished, the rest of his career was bound to be anticlimax, but he was only 43 years old, and soon took on new challenges. In Washington, he photographed Native American chieftains and their families when they came to sign treaties that would give the government control over most of their ancient lands. Then he headed west.

In 1867, Gardner was appointed chief photographer for the eastern division of the Union Pacific Railway, a road later called the Kansas Pacific. Starting from St. Louis, he traveled with surveyors across Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona and on to California. In their long, laborious trek, he and his crew documented far landscapes, trails, rivers, tribes, villages and forts that had never been photographed before. At Fort Laramie in Wyoming, he pictured the far-reaching treaty negotiations between the government and the Oglala, Miniconjou, Brulé, Yanktonai, and Arapaho Indians. This entire historic series was published in 1869 in a portfolio called Across the Continent on the Kansas Pacific Railroad (Route of the 35th Parallel).

Those rare pictures and the whole expanse of Gardner’s career are now on display at the National Portrait Gallery in a show entitled Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872. Among the dozens of images included are not only his war pictures and those of the nation’s westward expansion, but the famous “cracked-plate” image that was among the last photographs of a war-weary Abraham Lincoln. With this show, which will run into next March, the gallery is recognising a body of photography – of this unique art – unmatched in the nation’s history.”

Ernest B. Furgurson. “Alexander Gardner Saw Himself as an Artist, Crafting the Image of War in All Its Brutality,” on the Smithsonian.com website October 8, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/02/2016.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Gardner's Gallery' c. 1863-65

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Gardner’s Gallery
c. 1863-65
Albumen silver print
DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

 

 

The nation’s capital was a centre for photography during the war, and Alexander Gardner set up his new studio in May 1863 at Seventh and D Streets, just a few blocks from that of his former employer, Mathew Brady. Gardner split with Brady after the success of his Antietam photographs. The signage gives a full range of Gardner’s services, showing how he catered to the market for photographic images; the main sign reads “News of the War.”

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Walt Whitman and Party' c. 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Walt Whitman and Party
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

“This picture comes from a time when materials worked for each other. If pictures from these times were enlarged we would find their sharpness to be disappointing … but as this concept was not imagined, it shouldn’t be considered. The lens, the paper, the chemistry, the contact process all worked together. It is a superb image. If it were possible to make images like this, it is no wonder that highly talented people wanted to be photographers. And with talent, there were some with this level of sensitivity.

Note how the enlargement shows us some details that were not easily visible, but the tonality of the original has not carried over. Look at how the tonality of the curved branch combines with the figure of Whitman in the original, but it has crumbled in the enlargement … it is probably not possible to scan the original and keep the tonality without spending a squillion. Anyhow, it is a moment that has not been lost. It is almost too big a step of faith to believe that this much of the “air” of the original scene could be preserved.”

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan, March 2016

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Walt Whitman and Party' c. 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Walt Whitman and Party (detail)
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) came to Washington from New York City in search of his brother George, who had been wounded on December 13, 1862, at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Whitman found his brother, whose wound was not serious, and decided to stay in Washington. Whitman had been in a funk in New York: Leaves of Grass was not selling, and he was finding it difficult to write or revise his poetry. In Washington, Whitman assumed the role of a hospital visitor, comforting wounded soldiers, bringing them small treats, and, most important, writing their letters. He observed Abraham Lincoln, whom he idolised, from afar. And he began a relationship with Peter Doyle, a former Confederate soldier, whom he met on a streetcar and lived with for eight years. The other people in this photograph cannot be identified. The leaves on the trees would indicate that it was taken in late spring or summer of 1863.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (detail)
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

 

Gardner’s manipulation of this Confederate casualty to create a narrative vignette about the soldier’s fate indicates how unstable the line was between fiction and truth in the creation of photographs. Gardner’s intrusion shows that he thought he had to improve his images so that they would function as a sentimental narrative that could be more easily read by his audience. His actions are unforgivable from both a moral and artistic point of view. But his arrangement of the corpse reflects how difficult it was for Gardner and his contemporaries to process the reality of mass casualties in which the dead became anonymous. Caught at a transitional moment, Gardner did not trust the images his camera captured. That this photographic construction would be more marketable to a public still steeped in Victorian sentimentality only adds to Gardner’s malfeasance.

In his Sketchbook Gardner created an elaborate story around his photographs of a dead Confederate “sharpshooter” who apparently had fallen during fighting at the Devil’s Den. Gardner claimed that he took photographs when he returned to the battlefield in the fall of 1863 and “discovered” the corpse, along with the rifle propped against the stone wall, still undisturbed where the soldier had fallen. The story isn’t credible: four months after the battle, the body would have long since decayed, and souvenir hunters would have picked up the rifle. The truth, untangled by photographic historian William Frassanito, is a blot on Gardner’s career: Gardner and his assistants moved a dead soldier [below] from a nearby line of bodies being readied for burial. Shortly after the battle they posed it amid the boulders, including the carefully positioned rifle. The soldier was a regular infantryman, not a sharpshooter or sniper.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'A Sharpshooter's Last Sleep, Gettysburg, July 1863' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep, Gettysburg, July 1863
1863
Albumen silver print
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ruins of the Arsenal, Richmond, Virginia, April 1863 '1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Ruins of the Arsenal, Richmond, Virginia, April 1863
1865
Albumen silver print
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, Museum Purchase, Lloyd O. and Marjorie Strong Coulter Fund

 

 

Ironically, destruction of the major Confederate armoury occurred not from a Union assault but by an accidental fire that started in Richmond after the government began to evacuate the city on April 1, 1865, leaving it vulnerable. Chaos and confusion reigned as panicked residents faced the prospect of being occupied by the invading northerners; looting and destruction of property occurred as well. In the breakdown of order, fires broke out and quickly spread, destroying as many as fifty city blocks, until Union soldiers acting as firefighters extinguished them in part. Among the major buildings destroyed were the Tredegar Iron Works and the Arsenal. The Arsenal had been built earlier in the century but had fallen into disuse. It was made operative again when the war broke out; among the weapons it housed were those taken from the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1861.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.' March 4, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.
March 4, 1865
Albumen silver print
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.' March 4, 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C. (detail)
March 4, 1865
Albumen silver print
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

 

Abraham Lincoln’s major speeches as president – at both inaugurals and at Gettysburg – focused on large themes, in particular human nature and God’s will, as well as the character of the nation. The hard politics of formulating and implementing the details of, for instance, emancipation, civil rights, and reconstruction, were kept offstage in the day-to-day process of governing. So at his second inaugural on March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered a moral homily on how neither side, North or South, could know God’s will for mankind, and that the war had unintended consequences. Both parties now had to accept living with those consequences, namely the end of slavery and the beginning of civil equality for African Americans, Lincoln hinted. He ended with his majestic call to move on from war to civic peace: “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” let us “bind up the nation’s wounds” to “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace.” Flush with victory, many in the North were puzzled or displeased by the president’s conciliatory words.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Adjusting the Ropes' July 7, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Adjusting the Ropes
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Indiana Historical Society (P0409)
Daniel R. Weinberg Lincoln Conspirators Collection

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Adjusting the Ropes' July 7, 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Adjusting the Ropes (detail)
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Indiana Historical Society (P0409)
Daniel R. Weinberg Lincoln Conspirators Collection

 

 

Of the eight Booth conspirators tried for their role in the assassination plot, four were sentenced to death: Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt. While the men had been major participants in the plot (even if Herold and Atzerodt had failed at their assignments), Mary Surratt sentence was more controversial, as it was argued that her boardinghouse was simply where the conspirators had met; that her son John was part of the conspiracy did not help her cause. The jury was also uneasy about the federal government executing a woman for the first time. Convicted and sentenced on June 30, the conspirators were executed on July 7 at Washington’s Old Arsenal Prison, out of public view. In a macabre display of chivalry, a man holding an umbrella shielded Mary Surratt from the sun before the traps were sprung.

Gardner was the only photographer allowed to document the executions, a recognition of his prominence as a documentarian. His camera position on the wall of the prison allowed him a panoramic view.

Text from the exhibition website

.
The date was July 7, 1865. Alexander Gardner and his assistant Timothy O’Sullivan took a series of ten photographs using both a large format camera with collodion glass-plate negatives and a stereo camera (used to make 3D stereoscope pictures). This series of photographs are considered one of the first examples of photojournalism ever recorded.

Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and Georg Atzerodt. The four conspirators are now standing (Mrs. Surratt is supported by two soldiers) and is being bound. A hood has already been placed over Lewis Powell’s head by Lafayette Baker’s detective John H. Roberts. The nooses are being fitted around the necks of David Herold and George Atzerodt.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'The Drop' July 7, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
The Drop
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Library of Congress

 

 

On July 7, 1865, at 1.15 pm., a procession led by General Hartranft escorted the four condemned prisoners through the courtyard and up the steps to the gallows. Each had their ankles and wrists bound by manacles. Mary Surratt led the way, wearing a black bombazine dress, black bonnet, and black veil. More than 1,000 people – including government officials, members of the U.S. armed forces, friends and family of the accused, official witnesses, and reporters – watched. General Hancock limited attendance to those who had a ticket, and only those who had a good reason to be present were given a ticket. (Most of those present were military officers and soldiers, as fewer than 200 tickets had been printed.) Alexander Gardner, who had photographed the body of Booth and taken portraits of several of the male conspirators while they were imprisoned aboard naval ships, photographed the execution for the government. Hartranft read the order for their execution. Surratt, either weak from her illness or swooning in fear (perhaps both), had to be supported by two soldiers and her priests. The condemned were seated in chairs, Surratt almost collapsing into hers. She was seated to the right of the others, the traditional “seat of honor” in an execution. White cloth was used to bind their arms were bound to their sides, and their ankles and thighs together. The cloths around Surratt’s legs were tied around her dress below the knees. Each person was ministered to by a member of the clergy. From the scaffold, Powell said, “Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn’t deserve to die with the rest of us”. Fathers Jacob and Wiget prayed over Mary Surratt, and held a crucifix to her lips. About 16 minutes elapsed from the time the prisoners entered the courtyard until they were ready for execution.

A white bag was placed over the head of each prisoner after the noose was put in place. Surratt’s bonnet was removed, and the noose put around her neck by a Secret Service officer. She complained that the bindings about her arms hurt, and the officer preparing said, “Well, it won’t hurt long.” Finally, the prisoners were asked to stand and move forward a few feet to the nooses. The chairs were removed. Mary Surratt’s last words, spoken to a guard as he moved her forward to the drop, were “Please don’t let me fall.” Surratt and the others stood on the drop for about 10 seconds, and then Captain Rath clapped his hands. Four soldiers of Company F of the 14th Veteran Reserves knocked out the supports holding the drops in place, and the condemned fell. Surratt, who had moved forward enough to barely step onto the drop, lurched forward and slid partway down the drop – her body snapping tight at the end of the rope, swinging back and forth. Surratt’s death appeared to be the easiest. Atzerodt’s stomach heaved once and his legs quivered, and then he was still. Herold and Powell struggled for nearly five minutes, strangling to death.

Each body was inspected by a physician to ensure that death had occurred. The bodies of the executed were allowed to hang for about 30 minutes. The bodies began to be cut down at 1.53 pm. A corporal raced to the top of the gallows and cut down Atzerodt’s body, which fell to the ground with a thud. He was reprimanded, and the other bodies cut down more gently. Herold’s body was next, followed by Powell’s. Surratt’s body was cut down at 1.58 pm. As Surratt’s body was cut loose, her head fell forward. A soldier joked, “She makes a good bow” and was rebuked by an officer for his poor use of humour.

Upon examination, the military surgeons determined that no one’s neck had been broken by the fall, as intended. The manacles and cloth bindings were removed (but not the white execution masks), and the bodies were placed into the pine coffins. The name of each person was written on a piece of paper by acting Assistant Adjutant R. A. Watts, and inserted in a glass vial (which was placed into the coffin). The coffins were buried against the prison wall in shallow graves, just a few feet from the gallows.

“Mary Surratt” text from the Wikipedia website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Another in Alexander Gardner’s valedictory series of the major Union commanders in each theatre of the war, this photograph groups four of the figures from the 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley under the command of Philip Sheridan (1831-1888). Sheridan is standing to the left; at the table are cavalry officer Wesley Merritt (1834-1910); George Crook (1830-1890), who had an independent force in western Virginia before joining Sheridan’s army; Sheridan’s chief of staff, James W. Forsyth (1835-1906); and perhaps America’s most famous cavalryman, George A. Custer (1839-1876).

This photograph brings together the men who would be major figures in the settlement of the Great Plains and the Indian Wars – none more emblematic than Custer. As such, it provides the bridge between the first half of Gardner’s career during the Civil War and the images of western land and people on which he focused during the rest of his photographic career. One war had ended; another was beginning.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff (detail)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

” … Gardner was born in Paisley in 1821 and trained as a jeweller before moving into the world of newspapers. An idealist and socialist, he formed the left-leaning newspaper the Glasgow Sentinel in 1851. His keen interest in photography led to him emigrating across the pond in the hope of furthering his career. He was headhunted by [Matthew] Brady and at the outbreak of the war was well-positioned in Washington.

He was recruited as a staff photographer by General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, and made history on 19 September 1862 when he took the first photographs of casualties on the battlefield at Antietam. In 1863, Gardner split from Brady and formed his own gallery in Washington with his brother James [May 1863]. In July of that year, he photographed the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, developing images in his travelling darkroom.

Author Keith Steiner said: ‘Gardner was essentially a photojournalist. He had to process and develop the photographs on the move and in the middle of a battlefield which was not easy. He was highly regarded and Walt Whitman once said that he ‘saw beyond his camera’… ‘He was an artist, in some ways a scientist and a publisher. He was the complete package.’

Gardner was also the official photographer to President Abraham Lincoln. He captured him seven times, including before his inauguration in March 1861 and in February 1865, just weeks before he was assassinated. The war-time leader personally visited Gardner to have his photograph taken every year instead of the Scotsman visiting the White House.

Keith said: ‘Most of the photographs you see of Lincoln were taken by Gardner and chart how he aged physically. He was pictured in 1861 then a few years later and it is like a different man. In February 1865, he is a broken man and has aged about 20 years through the stress of the civil war. It is an incredibly revealing photograph’.”

Anonymous. “How Abraham Lincoln’s Scottish photographer became the first man to capture the horrors of the Civil War but was robbed of the credit… until now,” on the Daily Mail Australia website 25 January 2014 [Online] Cited 27/02/2016.

 

The West, 1867-1872

After the war, Alexander Gardner photographed events and people associated with one of the most abiding preoccupations of the nineteenth century: westward expansion. From 1867 to 1872 he made portraits of American Indian leaders who traveled to Washington to negotiate preservation of their traditional lands and lifeways, even as white Americans flooded the frontier. In 1867, Gardner became the first photographer to document a transcontinental project, making views of the Kansas Pacific Railroad’s construction activities, bustling frontier towns and settlements, Army forts, Indian villages, and magnificent empty landscapes.

The federal government then hired Gardner to photograph the spring 1868 treaty negotiations between the Indian Peace Commission and leaders of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Lakota in the Dakota Territory. The Fort Laramie Treaty established reservations on the northern Plains, marking a watershed moment in the relationship between Native peoples and the government. Gardner’s images are the only photographs of treaty negotiations ever commissioned by the U.S. government.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) '"Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way." Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
“Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way.” Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10134)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) '"Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way." Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
“Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way.” Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867 (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10134)

 

 

Alexander Gardner quoted from the final stanza of a 1726 poem by Bishop George Berkeley for the title of this photograph. The Anglo-Irish philosopher had originally offered his verse as a lamentation on the decline of British influence in North America, but after the Civil War, as the United States turned with determination to its expansionist agenda, Americans found particular resonance in Berkeley’s line, “Westward the course of empire takes its way.” Constructing a transcontinental railroad was central to the achievement of these ambitions. Although the company survived into the 1870s, the Kansas Pacific Railroad was unable to rally federal support for a transcontinental route along the southerly thirty-fifth and thirty-second parallels. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point in the Utah Territory, the “Golden Spike” ceremony joined the more northern tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad with those of the Central Pacific Railroad, marking the completion of the first railroads to link the East and West coasts of the United States.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Bridge over the Laramie River near its Junction with the North Platte River, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Bridge over the Laramie River near its Junction with the North Platte River, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory
1868
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10128)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory
1868
Albumen silver print
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P15390)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868 (detail)

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory (details)
1868
Albumen silver print
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P15390)

 

 

Left to right: Colonel Samuel F. Tappan (1831-1913), General William S. Harney (1800-1889), General William T. Sherman (1820-1891), General John B. Sanborn (1826-1904), General Christopher C. Augur (1821-1898), General Alfred H. Terry (1827-1890), and Commission Secretary Ashton S. H. White (life dates unknown)

In the summer of 1867, when Congress convened the Indian Peace Commission, popular opinion in the eastern United States supported a diplomatic resolution to the so-called “Indian problem” on both the northern and southern Plains. (The negotiations on the southern Plains were not photographed.) Consisting of civilians and army generals, the commission managed to secure treaties with the region’s “hostile” tribes and convened its final meeting on October 7, 1868. By then, public sentiment had taken an aggressive turn and demanded increased military intervention in Indian matters. Overruling their more diplomatically minded colleagues, the commission’s military members – led by General William T. Sherman – used the shift in the political landscape to advantage. As a body, the commission resolved that the government “should cease to recognise the Indian tribes as ‘domestic dependent nations.'” Treaty-making, or diplomacy, was at an end, and in the coming years, military conflict characterised U.S.-Indian relations on the Plains.

Text from the exhibition website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10139)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C. (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10139)

 

 

Left to right: Medicine Bull (life dates unknown), unidentified interpreter, Iron Nation (1815-1894), and Yellow Hawk (life dates unknown)

Alexander Gardner made three portraits of each American Indian pictured here: a group portrait and two separate portraits of each delegate, one in his Native and one in his Western attire. (A suit was often among the gifts given to Native delegates to the capital.) It is unknown how Medicine Bull (Sicangu Lakota), Iron Nation (Sicangu Lakota), and Yellow Hawk (Itazipacola Lakota) were dressed when they arrived to sit for their portraits, but Gardner’s apparent desire to make two individual portraits of each in many ways anticipates the popular “before and after” photographs of Native people that circulated in the following decades. The photographs were made to document the supposed salutary benefits of the sitter’s exposure to American civilisation.

Text from the exhibition website

 

The Lakȟóta people (pronounced [laˈkˣota]; also known as TetonThítȟuŋwaŋ (“prairie dwellers”), and Teton Sioux (from Nadouessioux – ‘snake’ or ‘enemy’) are an indigenous people of the Great Plains of North America. They are part of a confederation of seven related Sioux tribes, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ or seven council fires, and speak Lakota, one of the three major dialects of the Sioux language. The Lakota are the westernmost of the three Siouan language groups, occupying lands in both North and South Dakota. The seven bands or “sub-tribes” of the Lakota are:

  • Sičháŋǧu (Brulé, Burned Thighs)
  • Oglála (“They Scatter Their Own”)
  • Itázipčho (Sans Arc, Without Bows)
  • Húŋkpapȟa (“End Village”, Camps at the End of the Camp Circle)
  • Mnikȟówožu (“Plant beside the Stream”, Planters by the Water)
  • Sihásapa (“Black Feet”)
  • Oóhenuŋpa (Two Kettles)

Notable Lakota persons include Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (Sitting Bull) from the Húnkpapȟa band; Touch the Clouds from the Miniconjou band; and, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse), Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud), Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk), Siŋté Glešká (Spotted Tail), and Billy Mills from the Oglala band.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.
1867
Albumen silver print National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P10149)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821-1882)
Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C. (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P10149)

 

 

In a letter dated February 20, 1867, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Joseph Henry pressed Commissioner of Indian Affairs Lewis V. Bogy to fund a comprehensive effort to photograph Native delegates to Washington. Henry envisioned a kind of archive, a “trustworthy collection of likenesses of the principal tribes of the United States,” urgently adding that with the passing of “the Indian” only a few years remained to undertake such a project. Bogy apparently passed on the project, but the Smithsonian found an alternative collaborator in Englishman William Blackmore. (Blackmore posed before Alexander Gardner’s camera with Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud. The portrait of the two men is on display nearby.) Blackmore commissioned local Washington photographers like Gardner to make portraits of visiting delegates such as the Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot (life dates unknown) and Little Bird (life dates unknown), pictured here. Blackmore made his photographs available to the Smithsonian; they represent the institution’s very first photograph collection and are now housed in the National Anthropological Archives.

Text from the exhibition website

 

 

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
8th and F Sts NW
Washington, DC 20001

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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