As many of you know, the Library of Congress has a website called Selected Civil War Photographs. This page makes browsing the photographs easy because they have a Search feature, a Subject browse, or you can look at photos from each year of the War. There is also information about Understand and Working with the Collection.
One of my favorites is the “Does The Camera Ever Lie” link. On this page it begins to talk about how photographers of the Civil War era changed or manipulated captions in photographs in order to achieve a more dramatic effect. This page provides two links: The Case of the Confused Identity and The Case of the Moved Body Let’s look at the one about The Case of the Moved Body.
The photograph (Figure 1) shows a very famous picture by Alexander Gardner of a dead Confederate solider in Devil’s Den shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. According to research by William Frassanito (1975), Gardner actually moved this dead soldier some 50 yards up a hill in order to capture the now famous image (p. 191) . The LOC pages describe the two images and provide an analysis of how they are similar. But how can we let our students to some analysis of these photos?
Here’s how: On this same website download the same two images from The Case of the Moved Body in the large RAW TIFF format. If you have access to a projector, show the images on the screen. Then using a paint program such as GIMP or Paint Shop Pro, open the images and begin to look at them in more detail. Now, use the magnifying glass of your paint program to zoom in on the images. The TIFF format of the photo allows you to zoom in to the photo with higher magnifications without distorting the image. So, at these higher resolutions, you can look at the face and clothes of the dead soldier and make comparisons.
In addition to making comparisons, you can also become a crime scene investigator by looking for more clues. So, super sleuths, using the photograph of the soldier in the “sniper’s nest” can you locate his cartridge box, his hat or a blanket? What other things can you find?
Frassanito, W. (1975). Gettysburg: A Journey in Time. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co.