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Photography and Public Image

Today, the identity of a notable figure or celebrity may be largely crafted through photographic images.

President Lincoln

Mathew B. Brady (studio of)
(American, 1823–1896)

1867. Albumen silver print, 3 5/16 x 2 1/16" (8.5 x 5.3 cm)

President Abraham Lincoln had been in office for two years when this portrait was taken. His pose emphasizes his characteristic thoughtfulness and introspection. This is one of more than 30 photographs of Lincoln made by the studio of Mathew Brady from 1860 to 1864. Lincoln understood the power of these portraits, acknowledging that, “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president of the United States.”

Many of Brady’s photographs of Lincoln were reproduced on buttons and posters and, in the case of this image, as cartes-de-visites. These pocket-sized photographic calling cards were an inexpensive and popular way of distributing photographs, which were often collected in albums. Those picturing Lincoln, in particular a portrait taken on February 27, 1860, after the speech at Cooper Union that launched his presidential campaign, sold widely. Cartes-de-visites became a valuable political tool, allowing, for the first time, American citizens to see the man who was running for President. Lincoln understood the power of these images, and used the medium of photography to his advantage.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

The way a figure is positioned.

A representation of a particular individual.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).

Small handheld photographic cards, first popularized in the 1850s. Inexpensive and mass-produced, these cards depicted individual or celebrity portraits, and were popularly traded or collected in albums.

Touch ups
Brady touched up many of his portraits of Lincoln to correct slight physical abnormalities like his wandering eye. Thus, images like this helped dispel rumors that the tall and awkward Lincoln suffered from serious physical deformities.