George Norman Barnard was born into a Connecticut farming family on December 23, 1819. His life drastically changed with the death of his father in 1826, and he spent his childhood living with relatives in a neighboring town and apprenticing in various family-owned businesses. In 1843, he married and the young couple relocated to Oswego, New York, where after a brief foray into the hotel industry he opened the town's first daguerreotype studio. Mr. Barnard enjoyed immediate success and made a comfortable living for his family well into the 1850s. He began exploring the possibilities of applying daguerreotyping to photojournalism, making plates of a dramatic local mill fire. But the problem was these images could not be reproduced at the time and could only be seen in exhibitions. In 1853, Mr. Barnard moved his studio to Syracuse and became an active member of the New York State Daguerreian Association. His earliest efforts mirrored those of his colleagues, producing plates that were little more than recreations of Old Masters' paintings. Like fellow photographer Mathew Brady, he applied either ink or paint to his plates to increase their aesthetic appeal.
Unfortunately, an economic downturn in 1857 forced Mr. Barnard to close his studio, but he quickly found work with Edward Anthony and began experimenting with stereographic landscapes. He also offered his services to Alexander Gardner and Mathew Brady, and while working at Mr. Brady's Washington, DC gallery, made several popular cartes-de-visites of prominent politicians and of President Abraham Lincoln's 1861 inauguration. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Mr. Barnard became an important member of Mathew Brady's "Photographic Corps," and produced some of the first images of the Battle of Bull Run. The wet collodion process enabled him to develop photographs in an onsite makeshift darkroom.
In December of 1863, Mr. Barnard became the chief photographer for the Topographical Branch of the Department of Engineers, Army of the Cumberland. His assignment was to document Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's southern campaign. He followed the general throughout Chattanooga, Tennessee and onto Atlanta in the spring of 1864. In Atlanta, he turned his lens away from the flamboyant general and onto the local devastation his forces were unleashing on the once genteel Georgia city. He would use a stereo camera to capture expansive landscapes and rely upon his medium-format 12x15 camera when he had more time for image composition. Mr. Barnard left the Sherman unit after its arrival in Savannah, deeply shaken by the impact of war in the South, where once stately buildings were now ruins and once proud people were reduced to shells of their former selves. Mr. Barnard's photographs captured the horrors of war and the anguished death of a way of life.
After the war, many of Mr. Barnard's photographs were published in a collector's volume entitled Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign. He moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he entered into a portrait studio partnership with Charles Quinby, and also opened a Chicago studio that was destroyed by fire in 1871. In 1880, he settled in Rochester, New York, where he experimented with dry-plate processes, and promoted them successfully for George Eastman. Retiring in 1893, George N. Barnard moved for the last time to Cedarville, New York where he died on February 4, 1902, leaving behind a massive collection of photographic images of the Civil War that provide historical insights into famous battles and offer a timeless sympathetic glimpse of the agony of the Southern defeat.
2012 The Civil War and American Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), pp. 98-111
2011 The Civil War in Georgia (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press), pp. 105-106.
2012 The Civil War, Part 3: The Stereographs (URL: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/02/the-civil-war-part-3-the-stereographs/100243).
2000 Encyclopedia of the American Civil War (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.), 179-180.
2009 National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Photography (Washington, DC: National Geographic Society), p. 285.
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