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National Gallery Shows Gardner’s Work

National Gallery Shows Gardner’s Work
September 22
11:08 2015
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Alexander Gardner

An exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery displays historic photographs of American Indian leaders meeting President Abraham Lincoln.

The exhibit – Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 – will be on display through March 13, 2016.

Gardner, born in Scotland, worked in the studio of famed photographer Matthew Brady. He came to prominence with dramatic and vivid photographs of Civil War battlefields – some with the recently dead still on the ground. After the war, he took his camera west, creating unforgettable pictures of western landscapes and portraits of American Indians.

Gardner’s exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery features images of native leaders, power brokers and a who’s who of American political and military leaders.

He was Abraham Lincoln’s favorite photographer.

One of the most famous photographs ever – a rare shot – taken on Feb. 5, 1865 – is the “cracked plate” photograph with President Lincoln. Because the plate cracked, Gardner made only one photograph from it. Because it is so light sensitive it cannot be displayed regularly.

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Red Cloud

Lincoln would be assassinated just over two months later.

Another of Gardner’s most well-known photos is an 1865 shot of five Union generals poring over a map; among the soldiers was Gen. Philip Sheridan – soon to become commanding general of the army – and Gen. George Armstrong Custer of Little Bighorn infamy.

Among the most moving of his works were portraits of American Indian leaders who came to Washington to plead on their people’s behalf.

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Frederick Douglass

Among the famous – or infamous – subjects that posed for Gardner were Southern spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Sioux chief Red Cloud, author Walt Whitman, assassin John Wilkes Booth, Civil Rights pioneer Frederick Douglass, Gen. Ulysses Grant and Cheyenne chief Lone Wolf.

Not much is known of Gardner, who was born in 1821. He became a jeweler at age 14, which lasted for seven years. In 1850, he came to America with a group planning to start a socialist community in Iowa. But he returned to Scotland to raise more money, moving back to the United States in 1856.

He became interested in photography in 1851, after seeing a Matthew Brady exhibit in London. He worked for Brady until 1862, when he branched out on his own.

Gardner suddenly gave up photography in 1872, leaving no reason behind for his decision, and began an insurance company. He died in 1882.

 

 

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