Mathew Brady

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Image Source: WikipediaOne of the most famous photographers in US history, Mathew Brady held the rare distinction of having photographed 18 of the 19 American Presidents, starting from John Quincy Adams ending with William McKinley. The lone exception was the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, who died in office three years before Brady began his Photographic Collection. Aside of these photographs, Brady is also credited with the distinction of having curated visual documentation of the Civil War, and to have helped historians recollect and comprehend the era better.

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Other powerful element in his body of work includes his portraits of several senior Union Officers in the Civil War, and photographs of the Confederate side. The crown jewel in his work, though, was his range of photographs of Abraham Lincoln. It is from his range of photographs that the picture used on the $5 bill and the Lincoln Penny, find their insignia. One out of his Lincoln photos was also used by the National Bank Note Company as a model for the engraving on the 90 cents Lincoln Postage issue in 1869.

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Mathew Brady is known as the Father of Photojournalism. He was also considered to be a pioneer of sorts, for having orchestrated a corporate credit line – where he made sure to label his photographs with a signature of sorts: “Photo by Brady”. His name was also associated with the hardware for photography – particularly the heavy and specialized end tables which were factory-made especially for the sake of use by portrait photographers. The Brady stand, as it was called, comprised a rather heavy cast iron base for stability and an adjustable-height single-column pipe leg for dual use, as either a portrait model’s armrest or a neck rest.

While Brady’s studio has been credited with producing over 7,000 pictures, mostly two negatives of each photo, one set of his photographs was taken over by the government, and the other set went to the E. & H. T. Anthony & Company of New York, because he defaulted in the payment for photographic supplies. They were kicked about for over 10 years until they were found by John C. Taylor in an attic. He bought them, and then they became the centre piece of the Ordway–Rand collection. Finally, in 1895, when Brady himself had no idea of what had become of his photography, many of his pieces were broken, lost, or destroyed by fire. Some lost images were talked about in the final episode of Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary on the Civil War.

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