A couple of years ago at the Gettysburg Remembrance Day celebration, we met a couple of reporters from NPR who interviewed us about the wet plate collodion photographic process while we were having our photograph made by our friend Bob Szabo. We heard nothing more from NPR until a couple of weeks ago when my husband Todd was contacted by NPR about a project to recreate some of the iconic stereo collodion negatives that Alexander Gardner made at the Antietam battlefield shortly after what came to be known as America's Bloodiest Day. Within 12 hours over the course of three confrontations the Confederate and Federal armies suffered casualties that exceeded 23,000.
Gardner was sent by Matthew Brady from Washington, DC to document the carnage in the hopes the studio could make a few bucks from selling the images. Heretofore, there had been no photographic documentation of the horrors of war. Paintings had glamorized the heroic valor of those who fought and died. Gardner's images at Antietam shortly after the battle laid bare the stark reality of dead bodies piled in a heap in the bloody lane or left lying along a fence with the grimace of pain and death upon faces and the twisted limbs entangled, bodies bloated and insects buzzing about. When the images were published in caused an outcry - yet people 150 years ago had the same fascination with the macabre that we have today. The images were mesmerizing, haunting, bone chilling, and changed the way we came to view war. The casualties were no longer just names on the lists posted daily. And there was no denying these deaths were horrific.
The NPR project involved using a stereo camera to take collodion negatives using the same photographic process of the same perspectives of the same sites that had been photographs by Gardner showing the similarities and differences in the landscape today. NPR editors did a masterful job of showing the comparisons on its website. Thanks to the National Parks Services, there has been little change in the pastoral settings - in most images - only the lack of dead bodies differentiates the 1862 from the 2012 images. But one cannot help but feel the ghosts of those in Gardner's images when viewing the modern vision of the same site.
Todd's images are amazing works of art and a labor of love. His knowledge of the history of the Sharpsburg/ Antietam battle in conjunction with his 19th Century eye, his research into period images and in particular those of Gardner, and his ability to create a beautiful collodion negative resulted in his being the ideal candidate for this project. Seeing his images on the NPR website and listening to his interview with Audie Cornish on "All Things Considered" this afternoon left me inspired. He handled the publicity with humility and aplomb. We celebrated with a casual dinner at Chop Sticks in Winchester, Virginia and came home where he promptly stepped in cat vomit. There is nothing like a household pet to keep one grounded!
Kudos to you my dear husband for achieving recognition for all of your hard work, dedication and commitment to excellence.
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