The Civil War Through a Camera Lens

Civil War photography with Michael Kolster and Dana Byrd

A century and a half before ubiquitous iPhones and Instagram — in an era of cumbersome cameras and very long exposure times — a handful of intrepid photographers were capturing images of a pivotal time in American history.

Associate Professor of Art Michael Kolster and Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History Dana Byrd recently teamed up to give Alumni College attendees an immersion experience in the photography of the Civil War and its afterlife. With a collection of iconic photos by photographers such as Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Henry P. Moore, Byrd and Kolster explained how each image offers visual insight into historical events, artistic choice, and the laborious process of taking photographs in the late 1800s.

Kolster, a current Guggenheim Fellow, brought that latter message home with an on-the-spot demonstration of how to create a photograph with a 19th-century wet-plate technique. Get a glimpse of the process through the slideshow below (and watch a video of how it works).

Photos by Abby McBride

thumb:Students conduct a whale necropsy on the Kent Island archipelago (photo: Janet Gannon).