Albumen Image of 18th Century Blandford Church in Petersburg, Va. – Negative by T.H. O’Sullivan; Positive by A. Gardner

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Albumen Image of 18th Century Blandford Church in Petersburg, Va. – Negative by T.H. O’Sullivan; Positive by A. Gardner – This photograph of famed Blandford Church in Petersburg, appears in the two-volume opus “Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1865-66)”. Gardner was offended by Matthew Brady’s habit of obscuring the names of his field operators with the deceptive credit “Brady“. In his renown photographic compendium of large, Civil War images, besides titling each plate, Gardner took pains to specifically identify each of the eleven photographers in his publication; forty-four of the one hundred photographs are credited to Timothy O’Sullivan. This striking photograph of Blandford Church, which still stands today, in Petersburg, includes one Federal soldier and one civilian, in the image; the photograph appears in Gardner’s photographic sketch book, published in 1866, in Washington, [D.C.], by Philp & Solomons, [1865-66], v. 2, plate no. 85. This albumen is mounted on original, period cardstock and remains in excellent condition. The collector from whom we obtained the image, had it archivally framed. Beneath the image is printed the following:

Negative by T.H. O’SULLIVAN   /  April, 1865

Incidents of the War.

BLANDFORD CHURCH, PETERSBURG, VA.

Entered according to the act of Congress, in the year 1865, by A. Gardner, in the Clerks’ Office of the District Court of the District of Columbia  / Positive by A. GARDNER 511 7th St. Washington.

Beside this plate (v. 2 no. 85), in Gardner’s book, is the following description, composed by Alexander Gardner:

Blandford Church, Petersburg, Virginia.

‘Old Blandford Church’, of which a view is here presented, is a great object of interest to all visitors; the cemetery surrounding it having monuments erected one hundred and fifty years ago. The walls of the main body of the building are of English brick, imported from the mother country. The services of the Episcopal Church were first performed in 1735, and continued to be read until 1825, nearly a century. Since that time, owing to the movement of the inhabitants of Blandford to the present site of Petersburg, the church has not been used, although the cemetery, now much enlarged, still continues to be the general depository of the dead. The ivy-covered walls now stand as a historic monument of what was formerly the aristocratic portion of the city. In the cemetery the stranger is not only shown the almost obliterated slab beneath which rests the remains of General Phillips, who died in May, 1781, during the war of independence, but also the monument erected to the memory of the brave volunteers from the “Cockade City”, who left houses and friends in the war of 1812. The greater space, however, has been allotted during the last four years to the graves of “Our Soldiers”, these words being cut on a simple wooden cross, to mark the resting place of the Confederate dead.

A somewhat eccentric sexton, whose father before him performed the same duties, is generally on the spot to enlighten visitors in regard to the history of the church and is apparently much pleased to do so from the manner in which he enters upon his oft-repeated narrative. During the siege the edifice and its surroundings  suffered but little damage from shot or shell, although the position was in front of the point of attack at the time of the explosion of the mine on the 30th July, 1864.”

Measurements: Frame – W – 17.5”; H – 15.25”; Albumen (matted) – W – 12”; H – 9.5” (to the edges of the mat)

Alexander Gardner (October 17, 1821 – December 10, 1882) was a Scottish photographer who immigrated to the United States in 1856, where he began to work full-time in that profession. He is best known for his photographs of the American Civil WarU.S. President Abraham Lincoln, and of the conspirators and the execution of the participants in the Lincoln assassination plot.

Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, published in 1866, was the first photographically illustrated book on the American Civil War. It is a cornerstone of photography books, and within those books produced in America, it is peerless.Gardner’s Sketch Book was published in two volumes, with fifty hand-mounted albumen photographs in each book. A page of text written by Alexander Gardner accompanied each photograph. Although primarily a picture book, its text was an integral element of the overall presentation. For each print, Gardner carefully attributed the maker of the negative and the positive. The book tells the story, primarily of the eastern theater, of the war as conceptualized by Gardner. The selection and sequencing of the photographs, authorship of the text, and marketing of the book at the princely sum of $150 was all the genius of Alexander Gardner. Since it was a commercial failure, maybe the price wasn’t genius—but the book certainly was. The book covers the basics of how Civil War photographers operated in the field. It discusses the complexity of the photographic process and compares the role of the photographer with that of the sketch artist, who was also making a record of the war. It analyzes how sketch artists realize their imagery as opposed to how the photographer realizes his. While the technical limitations prevented the recording of actual battle scenes, photography could preserve in minute detail what a scene looked like where an awful occurrence had taken place. Today these qualities of photography are well-known, but at the time they were new concepts. Gardner photographed Lincoln more than twice as many times as any other photographer and made some of the most memorable, graceful poses of the president.

Timothy O’Sullivan

Timothy H. O’Sullivan was born in Ireland, in 1840; he emigrated to the United States, at a young age, to Richmond County, New York.  O’Sullivan began his photography career as an apprentice in Mathew Brady’s Fulton Street gallery in New York City and then moved on to the Washington, D.C., branch managed by Alexander Gardner. In 1861, at the age of twenty-one, O’Sullivan joined Brady’s team of Civil War photographers. When Gardner left Brady, O’Sullivan went with him, working for Gardner until the end of the war. Several of his images were included in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. O’Sullivan built his reputation on images that conveyed the destructive power of modern warfare. His photographs of Forts Fisher and Sedgwick suggest the dismal psychological as well as physical effect of continual barrages of distant cannon fire on the soldiers behind the barricades.

In 1867 O’Sullivan joined Clarence King’s geological survey of the fortieth parallel — the first federal expedition in the West after the Civil War. The letter of authorization, dated March 21, 1867, from Brigadier General A. A. Humphreys, chief of engineers, Department of War, charged King ​“to direct a geological and topographical exploration of the territory between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including the route or routes of the Pacific railroad.” O’Sullivan was strongly influenced by King’s interest in the arts (he was a member of the Ruskinian group, the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art), as well as by contemporary science and its attendant controversies. His work for the King survey often functioned as both objective scientific documentation and a personal evocation of the fantastic and beautiful qualities of the western landscape.

In 1871 O’Sullivan joined the geological surveys west of the one hundredth meridian, under the command of Lieutenant George M. Wheeler of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. An army man rather than a civilian scientist like King, Wheeler insisted on a survey that would be of practical value. His reports included information likely to be useful in the establishment of roads and rail routes and the development of economic resources. Wheeler’s captions for O’Sullivan’s pictures provide geological information but also emphasize that the West was a hospitable place for settlers. For example, he compared Shoshone Falls favorably to Niagara Falls, the most popular American symbol of nature’s grandeur. Indeed, O’Sullivan’s 1874 image of Shoshone Falls, a version of a nearly identical image of the falls he made for King six years before in 1868, emphasized perspective as picturesque as it was dramatically precipitant.

Flat-bottomed boats were used to go up the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon to the mouth of Diamond Creek. O’Sullivan commanded one of the boats, which he christened The Picture. Many of his negatives on glass plates were lost in transport, but surviving views of the Colorado’s canyons are among his finest.

In 1873 O’Sullivan led an independent expedition for Wheeler, visiting the Zuni and Magia pueblos and the Canyon de Chelly, with its remnants of a cliff-dwelling culture. O’Sullivan’s 1873 images of Apache scouts are among the few unromanticized pictures of the western Indian, unlike those of many ethnographic photographers who posed Indians in the studio or outdoors against neutral backgrounds. O’Sullivan died in New York City, in 1882.

Merry A. Foresta American Photographs: The First Century (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996)