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Major Civil War photography exhibit opens at NOMA Jan. 31

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By George Barnard, Ruins of Mrs. Henry’s House; Battlefield of Bull Run,
near Manassas Va., July 21, 1861.
More than 200 photographs of the American Civil War have been brought together by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for a major exhibition opening at the New Orleans Museum of Art on Friday, Jan. 31.

The exhibit, “Photography and the American Civil War,” It will feature groundbreaking works by Mathew B. Brady, George N. Barnard, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan, among many others.

In connection with the opening, Jeff Rosenheim, the Metropolitan’s chief photographs curator and the exhibit organizer, will be doing a gallery talk with NOMA photography curator and NOPA member Russell Lord on Friday at 6 p.m. The talk will be held in conjunction with the museum’s Friday Nights at NOMA music-and-art series.

NOMA’s exhibit will feature intimate studio portraits of Union and Confederate soldiers, battlefield landscapes strewn with human remains, multi-panel panoramas of Gettysburg and the ruins of Richmond, diagnostic medical studies of wounded soldiers and portraits of Abraham Lincoln, as well as assassin John Wilkes Booth.

By Alexander Gardner, featuring President Abraham Lincoln, Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand (right), and Allan Pinkerton, aka E. J. Allen, U.S. Secret Service Chief, at Secret Service Dept., Headquarters Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, Md.

Photography and the Civil War” will also focus on the role played by Matthew Brady in conceiving the first, photojournalistic and extended photographic coverage of any war. Contrary to popular belief, the museum notes, Brady produced few of the surviving Civil War images. Instead, he commissioned and published photos of a team that included Gardner, O’Sullivan, and Barnard.

The exhibit looks at the work not just of these photographers, however, but of many of the thousands of people who helped document through photography the war and the soldiers who fought and died in it, as well as the places where the war was fought.

“The massive scope of this exhibition mirrors the tremendous role that photography played in describing, defining, and documenting the Civil War,” said museum photography curator Lord. “The technical, cultural and even discursive functions of photography during the Civil War are critically traced in this exhibition, as is the powerful human story, a story of the personal hopes and sacrifices and the deep and tragic losses on both sides of the conflict.”

“This extraordinary exhibition transcends geographic divisions in its intense focus on the participants in the Civil War,” said Susan M. Taylor, NOMA Director. “It becomes an exploration of shared human traits: hope, resolution, stoicism, fear, and sadness. We are delighted to share this important statement about American history and identity with the people of New Orleans and the Gulf region.”

By Alexander Gardner, Ruins of Gallego Flour Mills, Richmond

Major support for the exhibition is being provided by Kitty and Stephen Sherrill and J.P. Morgan, with additional support from Melanee and Steven Usdin.

Images, from top: Courtesy of the New Orleans Museum of Art, with all copyrights held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.