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  Thomas C. Roche, Photographer

Thomas C. Roche was born in 1826. There is virtually nothing known about his life, education or career before 1858, when he was listed in a New York directory as an “agent at 83 South Street in Brooklyn, New York.” This is also the year his interest in photography began, encouraged by his employers, prominent photographic distributor siblings Edward and Henry T. Anthony. It is Mr. Roche who introduced aniline dyes to treat albumen paper, various ambrotype varnishes, and different types of coloring for photographic prints to E. & H. T. Anthony. He was so revered as an employee, the brothers sent Mr. Roche to photograph Central Park, where he produced an impressive albumen set of stereographic images for sale. For this endeavor, he received high critical praise from the New York Herald and other publications. His transformation from photographic agent to field photographer was complete.

During the Civil War, the Anthony’s dispatched Mr. Roche to the field to take stereographic views to compete with preeminent wartime photographer Mathew Brady. Mr. Roche was so close to the action, he was nearly hit by artillery fire, exploding merely a few feet away. The ever-calm photographer simply dusted off himself and his equipment, and continued taking pictures, rationalizing that, “Two shots never fell in the same place.” As the Civil War was nearing its bloody conclusion, Mr. Roche documented Confederate casualties for Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs. Here, he demonstrated his considerable mastery of the art by photographing the corpses from close range, and from a lowered perspective that conveyed the intimacy associated with brothers in arms engaged in ‘hand-to-hand combat.’

Mr. Roche had truly reached his creative pinnacle as a wartime photographer, although was later criticized for manipulating scenes for dramatic effect. He would add guns, bullets and props, and according to a recent article in The Civil War Times, one of Mr. Roche’s ‘dead Yankee soldiers’ was actually, in fact, a very much alive African American member of General Lee’s Confederate battalion. While this was certainly a questionable practice, it was commonplace and widely accepted among Civil War photographers, including the esteemed Mr. Brady. After the war, Mr. Roche returned to the Anthonys’ laboratory, where among other breakthroughs, developed an award-winning process for carbon transparencies.

In 1880, when the Anthonys finally embraced dry-plate processing, Mr. Roche was responsible for scooping the competition with a technique that enabled users to develop plates in warm water. This invention, which caught the attention of George Eastman (a customer of E. & H. T. Anthony), became known as Eastman’s ‘Tropical Dry Plates.’ The royalties Mr. Roche received from this invention allowed him to live very comfortably in later years. He continued his photographic experimentation, with full company support, well into his sixties. Meanwhile, he was an active member of such industry organizations as the Operators Photographic Association, and was one of the founding members of New York City’s Society of Amateur Photographers. Thomas C. Roche died on October 22, 1895 at the age of 68, leaving behind a wife and three children, about which virtually nothing is known, perhaps due to the fact that he was, essentially, ‘married’ to the field of photography. Several of Mr. Roche’s Central Park stereographs (sliver prints) can be found at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, and some of his Civil War views are featured as part of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Gilman Collection.

1895 The American Amateur Photographer, Vol. VII (New York, NY: The Outing Company, Limited), pp. 522-523.

1895 Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Vol. XXVI (New York, NY: E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.), p. 367.

2012 Civil War Battle Front! (URL:

2019 Civil War View, 1860s (URL:

2015 The Garden of Death – The Fallen Sparrows of Fort Mahone (URL:

2015 Lens of War (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press), p. 155).

2019 Petersburg Project: Thomas C. Roche (URL:

2013 Photography and the American Civil War by Jeff L. Rosenheim (New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), pp. 184, 222-223.

2000 Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 by Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), p. 84.

2019 Thomas C Roche Yosemite Stereoview - Merced River and Half Dome 1870s (URL:

2019 A Visit to the "Central Park" in the Summer of 1863. Swans at the Lake Shore (URL:

1993 The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century by Maria Morris Hambourg, Pierre Apraxine and Malcolm Daniel (New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), p. 318.

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2020-05-14 16:55:56

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