City of Atlanta, GA, No. 2
Purchased through the Julia L. Whittier Fund; PH.999.48.4
Beginning in 1861, only a few decades after the popular introduction of the photographic process, the American Civil War was the first war to be photographed intensively from start to finish. For American families who had loved ones involved in the war, photographs enabled an unprecedented encounter with horrifically vivid images of the front lines of battle. Moreover, the public perception of photographs as an unmediated presentation of reality fueled the desire to “factually” record the conflict through photography. George Barnard originally recorded the war while employed by the well-known photographic entrepreneur Mathew Brady, but he left Brady’s studio in 1863 to pursue independent work. As a U.S. Army photographer for the Division of the Mississippi, Barnard accompanied General William T. Sherman on much of his 1864 March to the Sea, which was later acknowledged as one of the largest military victories in American history. Soon after, Barnard deduced that there would be interest in photographs of Sherman’s march and published a series of his works in an 1866 album entitled Photographic Views of the Sherman Campaign. Rushed by Sherman’s breakneck speed and possibly disturbed by the violence of the campaign, Barnard took many of the album’s images during repeat visits to the region. This ghostly image of a nearly abandoned downtown area of Atlanta dates to sometime between the city’s 1864 capture and 1866. The faint traces of train tracks and the bombed-out shells of buildings suggest the previous violence, in contrast to the city’s incongruously peaceful landscape setting. The eerie light cast over the scene by Barnard’s careful use of double-printed clouds (clouds from another negative printed directly on the existing photograph) signals the photographer’s desire to present his photos as works of aesthetic, as well as historical, merit. Barnard’s visually complex and poignant views of battlefields and ruined cities appealed to viewers for their haunting aesthetic beauty as well as their commemoration of the nation’s devastating civil conflict.
Last Updated: 4/29/09