During this election season, it’s hard to imagine a time when photographs—let alone television, the Internet, and social media—did not play a central role in presidential campaigns. Photography’s impact on national politics goes back to the 1860 presidential election. For the first time in United States history, photographic portraits of the candidates were circulated widely among American citizens. One photograph in particular may have helped elect President Abraham Lincoln on November 6, 1860—152 years ago today.
Whether you have election fever or are feeling uninspired by election coverage, explore how photographic portraits shape our understanding of public figures, including politicians and celebrities, in Photography and the Public Image. Compare two portraits of Lincoln by Matthew Brady—taken before and after he was elected. While you’re there, check out related links to Lincoln’s famous Cooper Union speech, which has been credited with earning him the nomination, and explore 60 years of presidential campaign commercials.
And don’t forget to vote!