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June 7, 1863: New 'mobile photography' brings battles home like never before

Jun. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Robert E. Lee, circa 1863.
Robert E. Lee, circa 1863. (Mathew Brady / National Archives)
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Mathew Brady maybe the only northerner who can say he shot Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Of course that was in a studio with his camera and when Lee was still an officer in the U.S. Army.

Now, he could just as easily shoot Lee on the field of battle.

Relying on the latest high-tech equipment, Brady is among the new breed of war correspondents, bringing the battlefield to the homefront like no other conflict before.

With heavy cameras and a cumbersome development process, photography heretofore has largely been confined to established studios. New lightweight gear, however, often uploaded onto a single wagon, now enables “mobile photography” with shooters able to roam the battlefields as the fighting unfolds.

Dubbed the “father of photojournalism,” Brady says that when the war started, “I had to go. A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.” He has since dispatched a legion of photographers across the continent.

While a few photographs were taken during the Mexican War and Crimean conflict, the War Between the States has been captured in hundreds of thousands of images so far. Some estimate that more than a million photos could be taken by war’s end.

Photography also allows soldiers to bring small pieces of home with them into battle. These days, few troops are without a print or two of a sweetheart or parents back home. In turn, mobile labs like those run by Brady and others are allowing those same soldiers to send images of themselves back to family members from far-flung frontlines.

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