[Alexander Gardner], c. 1866. First Edition. Retouched albumen prints, (5), measuring 7 x 6 inches on slightly large cards, each with pencil inscriptions, dated 1869, on verso, 3 with remnants of original backing paper and second inscriptions over the first, mat toning to O’Laughlin only, a bit of mat adhesive remnants at the edges of Atzerodt and Arnold. Very Good. Item #List1201
Alexander Gardner’s four month endeavor to photographically document the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination came to him through his his relationship with Allan Pinkerton, whose intelligence agency was the precursor to the Secret Service. Pinkerton granted Gardner unlimited access to the notorious crime’s key people and places.
On April 27th, Gardner arrived at the Washington Navy Yard and boarded the USS Montauk and Saugus, where 5 of the surviving conspirators were being held, blind-folded and manacled. There, he created a stunning series of intense, hauntingly intimate portraits of the doomed men awaiting their fates. Often noted for their proto-mugshot-like qualities, the works are strikingly modern, particularly his photographs of Lewis Payne (Powell), who remained remorseless until the day he was hanged.
The present group of photographs is an interesting mid-point between Gardner’s original images, masterpieces of 19th-century portraiture, and the duller, less-detailed carte de visite versions that were distributed to the public. While the creation of these types of commercial copy prints was common practice, guided by the practical and financial limitations of photographic reproduction at the time, it is nonetheless interesting to consider the artistic implications, however inadvertent.
Overall, the collection is a fascinating primary document from a pivotal moment in American history, created by one of the nation’s preeminent early image-makers, which also speaks to the use and dissemination of photography as a persuasive tool.