I came across this gruesome yet fascinating article by Christopher Benfey in The New York Review about Reed Bontecou, a surgeon-photographer during the Civil War. This article is relevant to our discussion of prison photography as well as photography in general as it gives a glimpse at what early photography was being used for in the United States. It is also a very sobering article about the realities of war. Warning! The images in the article are quite graphic.
The first set of three images is just like the Irish prison photography we looked at earlier in the semester. The same uncertainty about how exactly to use the new medium of photography is evident in these images just as it was in the Irish political prisoners’ images. The one on the right is seen from head to toe in a profile pose unbefitting the image’s purpose as identification and not a decoration.
The third image is also immensely fascinating as it appears upon first glance to be a very beautiful photograph of a young man in a sensual pose, set in an oval frame with soft vignette edges. It reminds me a lot of the Julia Margaret Cameron’s photograph of Ellen Terry. What the photo actual depicts is a young man having his leg removed due to gangrene, making the facial expression and the body language of the young man as well as the photographer’s choices even more interesting.
The Civil War was unlike any previous war, greatly due to the rapidly advancing technology. Weaponry was becoming increasingly deadly and destructive and as a result injuries and surgeries were numerous. In addition to this, the introduction of photography allowed the documentation of said destruction and the rendering of the people affected by war and devastation to be captured forever.