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George Eastman House marks 150th anniversary of Civil War with exhibitions opening Feb. 12

Between the States features rare and never-before-seen images, accompanied by contemporary photographs of Civil War sites, motion pictures, and cameras


Rochester, N.Y., January 31, 2011—George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film commemorates the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War with photography and motion picture exhibitions opening on Feb. 12, Abraham Lincoln's birthday. The museum's unparalleled collection of 19th-century photography is showcased as iconic photographs hang alongside rare and never-before-seen images, in addition to contemporary images of Civil War sites and re-enactments and a look at how motion pictures have fictitiously depicted the war. The exhibitions are on view through June 12, 2011.

The American Civil War (April 12, 1861-April 9, 1865) divided a country and created a nation. It also yielded more American fatalities and greater domestic suffering than any other war. During the sesquicentennial of Mr. Lincoln's War, the exhibition Between the States: Photographs of the American Civil War presents more than 130 historical photographs of Civil War sites, circumstances, and people.

The exhibition Between the States: Photographs of the American Civil War explores how photography was used during this period to record the war, promote popular causes, and commemorate those who sacrificed their lives.

"During the Civil War, people are seeing war through photography for the first time," said Jamie Allen, curator of Between the Statesand Eastman House assistant of curator of photographs. "Before this war you don't see dead bodies resulting from battle. Only through these images are we seeing the boys who went off to fight, and photography becomes real for people at this point."

The photographs of sweeping battlefields, soldiers, famous figures, fortress interiors, prisons, and post-Civil War memorial sites were captured in a variety of ways, such as portrait studios set up near encampments, lantern-slide artists traveling with troops, and photographers on the sidelines of battlefields (although images could only be taken after battle, since the technology at this time could not capture action). Many of the featured photographs are held only at Eastman House and this is the first time the museum's Civil War imagery is comprehensively being displayed in its 64-year history.

Between the States includes portraits of such Civil War era figures as Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, Sojourner Truth, Tom Thumb, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Susan B. Anthony. Famed photographers include George Barnard, Mathew Brady, and Alexander Gardner, with rare photographs including those of the C.S.S. Alabama, a Confederate naval vessel. Key photo albums are included -- Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, Gardner's Sketchbook of The Civil War, and The Lincoln Conspiracy, the only album of its kind, featuring images related to the assassination as well as the search, trail, and execution of the conspirators.           

The Eastman House display also will feature two cameras to illustrate equipment used during the Civil War - a stereo camera (1864) owned by the Mathew Brady Studio and a Lewis wet-plate camera (1862).                                                      

A copy-print version of Between the States will begin touring the country in May, traveling to Chattanooga, Tenn., Elmhurst, Ill, and Manassas, Va., among other cities. The only location to view the vintage photographs is George Eastman House.

"It sends chills up your spine to look at an original image, realizing 'this photograph was made by light bouncing off President Lincoln,'" said Dr. Alison Nordström, Eastman House curator of photographs. "Photography is key to what we know about the Civil War. And in this sesquicentennial year, we feel the threat of division and violence today. We offer these exhibitions as an opportunity for reflection, renewal, and hope."

Still Here: Contemporary Artists and the Civil War

In an adjoining gallery will be contemporary photographs selected by Dr. Alison Nordström, Eastman House curator of photographs, dealing with the legacy of the Civil War. Still Here: Contemporary Artists and the Civil War traces the history of the Civil War to the present, presenting re-enactments and Civil War sites in ways that were not possible in the 1860s. Featured is recent work by three artists:

Oscar Palacio: "History Re-visited"

Popular historic sites that have both embedded meanings and assumed historical narratives. Born in Columbia, Palacio's interests include how site architecture and photography shape and form an American collective experience. What, when, how, where, and why a nation chooses to memorialize, are the questions addressed in this work. Palacio is based in Rochester, N.Y. and is assistant professor of photography at Rochester Institute of Technology.

William Earle Williams: "Unsung Heroes: African American Soldiers in the Civil War"

* Note: Williams will speak at Eastman House at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17

Contemporary views of historical Civil War landmarks or landscapes relevant to African Americans participation in the Civil War and a reaction to the notable absence of a comprehensive record representing African American contributions to a war in which 180,000 African American soldiers, trained, fought, and shaped the outcome of the battles. Williams' approach has been one of commemoration. The sites are often forgotten and unmarked and his work transforms the mundane into sacred ground. Williams is a practicing photographer, curator of photography, and the Audrey A. and John L. Dusseau Professor in Humanities at Haverford College, Pennsylvania. 

 Willie Anne Wright: "Civil War Redux"

Photographs of Civil War re-enactments taken with a pinhole camera on or near original Civil War sites. The long exposures necessary for pinhole photography suggest the slow imaging processes of the photographers of the mid-19th century. Her subjects, like theirs, did not include battle action. Virginia-based Wright concentrates on camp scenes, medical and death-related images, and portrayals of widows. While recording the activities of the historically accurate re-enactors, sometimes an anachronism slips in, adding to the charm and complexity of these images.

 Reel Histories: The Civil War in Motion Pictures

The Eastman House's motion picture collection will be showcased in the museum during the run of the Civil War exhibitions. Scenes from films focused on the Civil War will be featured, including early silent examples and screen tests for Gone With the Windrecently restored by Eastman House, as well as film stills and posters. In addition, a selection of films focusing on the Civil War will be featured in the Dryden Theatre in May. Titles to be announced at dryden.eastmanhouse.org.

 The exhibitions are sponsored in part by J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation and the Elaine P. and Richard U. Wilson Foundation.