Sunday, September 23, 2012

Photographer brings Civil War to life with centuries-old technology

Richard Barnes
A reenactment of the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Md., this past weekend.
The Civil War was the first war to have dead soldiers photographed before they were buried – most notably by Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner – two pioneers of photojournalism. Drawing on those photographers for inspiration, Richard Barnes goes to different Civil War reenactments and shoots the battles using the same laborious techniques Brady and Gardner used: wet plate photography. 

Richard Barnes
A participant at the reenactment of the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Md., this past weekend.
“You might see a car in the background of my photographs because I am not interested in replicating the past,” Barnes said. “I'm not interested in nostalgia. I'm approaching this from an artistic point of view. I'm interested in what I refer to as the ‘slippage of time.’”

Launch slideshow
Richard Barnes uses wet plate photography from the era to record the          battle reenactments.
Richard Barnes
A spectator at the Antietam reenactment. “What's important about this battlefield is that it is the first time that photography was used as a tool to convey what was happening to the public at battlefields across the South and Maryland,” Barnes said. Civil war photographers such as Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner took photographs of dead soldiers before the were buried - pioneers of photojournalism. But newspapers of the time didn't have the ability to reprint the images.

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This week marks the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest battle in American history, the battle of Antietam. Amid a battlefield full of re-enactors, photographer Richard Barnes commemorated the anniversary with a camera very much like those used during the Civil War.

Richard Barnes
An Abraham Lincoln impersonator poses for his portrait this past weekend at the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Md.

NBC News
A camera crew from Rock Center films photographer Richard Barnes, working in the field during a reenactment of the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Md.

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