Tag Archives: Francis Bicknell Carpenter

February 9, 1864: Lincoln’s Magical Photographic Session with Anthony Berger

10 Feb


The cover of Harvard Professor Doris Goodwin Kearns’ best-selling book A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005) — on which Steven Spielberg based part of his  movie Lincoln (2012) — features an image from the painting The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet.  Although the book jacket for A Team of Rivals notes that Alexander Hays Ritchie engraved the image, it neither mentions who painted the scene nor explains that the painter made use of photographic studies by Anthony Berger of several of the depicted dignitaries, the most notable of whom is Abraham Lincoln (see below):

3a05802v LCcrop

Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet (Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

The somewhat forgotten American painter who created this work, Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900), is both the instigator and story-teller of how several of the most famous, well recognized, highly replicated, and widely revered photographs of Abraham Lincoln were created in February and April of 1864 over the course of three eventful sittings with the photographer Anthony Berger. But for Mr. Carpenter, Lincoln never would have sat for 13 extraordinary photographic views and the world would never know that Anthony Berger was the man who created these iconic studio images.

Francis Carpenter and Anthony Berger probably first crossed paths in the 1854 to 1855 time period. From 1853 to 1855, Carpenter maintained a “portrait painter” studio on the second floor of the same 359 Broadway, New York City building in which the famous Mathew Brady occupied the top three floors. It is conceivable that Carpenter supplemented his income as a portrait painter by providing occasional retouching services for Brady during his slower times, for in his later years F.B. Carpenter described M. B. Brady as “my friend Brady.” See, for example, the following advertisement appearing in the January 17, 1855 edition of The Crayon, Vol. I No. 3, below:

359 Broadway_1856 The Crayon p045clean

 The 1855-56 Trow’s Directory of New York City also places the artist Anthony (then known as Anton) Berger at the same address:

1856 Trow's New York City directory_071b

Carpenter appears to have overlapped Berger’s earliest tenure at 359 Broadway during the year 1855. That year also marks when Mathew Brady began advertising the use of a new revolutionary form of photography — the wet plate collodion process — which would soon overtake daguerreotypes and ambrotypes in popularity.

It is not clear whether Berger first leased space at 359 Broadway in order to operate as an independent painter, like Carpenter, or if he was employed there by Brady from day one. Because Berger listed himself in the 1854-1855 Wilson’s Business Directory as a “landscape painter” working out of his home at 251 Bowery, either scenario is possible. As explained in Footnote 4 in the article “Chewing on ‘A. Berger,'” many photographers and the retouchers whom they employed were artists with a background grounded in painting subject matter on canvas or other objects. Those who fit that description and wanted to make pictures had to learn the chemistry and techniques involved in preparing the sticky wet collodion film on glass plates, developing the exposed plates, and printing the negatives as positive images on albumin-treated paper.

But as of 1855, even the talented daguerreotypists and ambrotypists at famous New York City galleries, such as Mathew B. Brady’s establishment, were still learning how to master the chemistry and the new processes involved in making wet-plate collodion negatives. Although the wet-plate process first was described in writing by the Englishman Frederick Scott Archer in 1851, it took a few years for it to catch on in the United States. Anthony Berger’s first appearance at 359 Broadway was perfectly timed to coincide with the advent of American wet plate collodion photography.

Berger and Carpenter conceivably first crossed paths even earlier. Carpenter resided in Brooklyn in 1854 (and for many years thereafter).  A census schedule entry appears to show that Anthony Berger lived in Brooklyn for several months after arriving in New York City from England in February of 1854. Thus, Berger’s initial introduction to fellow painter F.B. Carpenter may have occurred in Brooklyn. In that case, it is likely that Carpenter secured for Berger an introduction to and possibly a job with the famous “Brady of Broadway.” By 1856, Brady’s need for skilled artisans on his staff grew after introducing to an eager audience his expensive “Brady Imperials” which were photographic images blown up by solar enlargers onto a large canvas and then heavily colored by oil painters — resulting in sort of a mix between a photo and a painting. It is speculated that Alexander Gardner, who joined Brady’s staff in 1856, introduced M.B. Brady to that lucrative innovation.

Francis B. Carpenter first gained substantial notoriety as a portrait painter in 1852 when he was commissioned to paint President Millard Fillmore, which led to a painting of Fillmore’s successor, President Franklin Pierce. By 1855, he was well-recognized as an accomplished portraitist. In that year he painted  Salmon Chase at the close of his term as United States Senator. Chase went on to become the Secretary of the Treasury and later Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in Lincoln’s Administration. He also painted William H. Seward, who later served as Lincoln’s Secretary of State and most trusted adviser. Below, an engraving of Francis B. Carpenter from The Picture and the Men (1867):


Now jump ahead nearly a decade.

Lincoln is President, a horribly bloody Civil War has been raging, and M.B. Brady owns two celebrated photographic galleries in NYC and Washington, D.C., the latter of which is managed and operated for Brady by Anthony Berger. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been formally signed and went into effect on January 1, 1863. It represented one of the most significant steps taken by the Administration to aid in prosecuting the War to a successful conclusion. Of greater importance, the Proclamation begat the eventual passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by the House of Representatives just over a year later, forever abolishing slavery.

On November 29, 1863, Francis Carpenter wrote in his diary that he had “conceived the idea of painting a picture commemorative of the First Reading in Cabinet council of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln.” It was to be a fitting tribute memorializing what he considered to be among the most monumental events in human history — the moment that President Lincoln first read his carefully crafted Proclamation aloud in a meeting with his Cabinet sometime in 1862. As good fortune had it, Carpenter quickly induced a wealthy friend to fund the project as well as U.S. Representative Schuyler Colfax of Indiana to approach Lincoln and secure the President’s assent. On December 25, 1864, Carpenter penned in his diary that Mary Todd Lincoln “informed [him] that President Lincoln would sit for my large picture of the ‘Reading of the Proclamation of Freedom to the Cabinet.” He dreamed that this particular work would become his defining masterpiece, placing him on the same pedestal as other great American painters of history such as John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Wilson Peale, and Benjamin West.

But Carpenter needed even more help. He wanted his studio to be located in the White House and desired sufficient entree to Lincoln and his Cabinet members in order to sketch them and learn how to precisely reconstruct the exact scene of that first reading while their memories were still fresh [Note: ironically, the individual subjects never agreed when Lincoln performed his first reading because no one had recorded that date; they also disagreed on where everyone had been positioned and several Cabinet members thought the first reading of the draft Proclamation was of little historical consequence in light of subsequent revisions to and readings of the Proclamation].

To achieve this goal, Francis Carpenter turned to Congressman Owen Lovejoy of Illinois, one of Lincoln’s dearest long-time friends in Washington. On February 4, 1864, Carpenter called on the seriously ill Lovejoy “who sat up in bed to write a note introducing [Carpenter] to the President.” Lovejoy was sold on the concept of trying to paint the historical event as it had really happened and while all of the key actors were still in office, rather than an overly romanticized and exaggerated work made years after-the-fact. Carpenter also promised that the painting would be exhibited across the country and made into engravings for distribution to an even wider audience. He was extremely fortunate to gain an audience with Lovejoy because Lincoln’s “bosom friend” died soon thereafter on March 25. Carpenter wrote that he “took [Lovejoy’s] note of introduction at once to the White House.”

There was no time to spare. From this point on, events moved quickly for Francis B. Carpenter.

Saturday, February 6, 1864:

Francis Carpenter arrived at the White House for an afternoon reception hosted by Lincoln. Upon his introduction to the President, Lincoln remarked, “Oh yes; I know; this is the painter.” Quipped Lincoln, “Do you think, Mr. C., that you can make a handsome picture of me?” After the reception ended, Carpenter met with Lincoln in the President’s study which also served as the Cabinet room (now known as the Lincoln Bedroom) where Lincoln reviewed Lovejoy’s note. Lincoln then said,  “well, Mr. C., we will turn you loose in here, and try to give you a good chance to work out your idea.” The President proceeded to give a detailed accounting of the history of the proclamation and showed Carpenter where each of his Cabinet members had been arranged around the table in his study/Cabinet room during the first reading:

As nearly as I remember,” said Lincoln, “I sat near the head of the table; the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of War were here, at my right hand; the others were grouped at the left.”

Lincoln also assented to Carpenter’s guiding concept that the painting should form a part of the historical record. Carpenter wrote in 1866:

I had resolved to discard all … tricks of picture-making, and endeavor, as faithfully as possible, to represent the scene as it actually transpired; room, furniture, accessories, all were to be painted from the actualities. It was a scene second only in historical importance and interest to that of the Declaration of Independence; and I felt assured, that, if honestly and earnestly painted [I would represent the event as would the historian in making a written record].

But like any good artist, Carpenter confessed that “a curious mingling of fact and allegory” were taking place in his mind. By placing Lincoln at the head of the table, he would be situated between his radical and conservative members, serving as “the uniting point of both.”

Monday, February 8, 1864:

By this day, Carpenter completed on the “back of a visiting card” his first sketch which became the model for what he painted.

Tuesday, February 9, 1864:

From Carpenter’s recollections written in 1866 we learn that he spent the morning of February 9th with Judge Holt in a Cabinet meeting with Lincoln. There the President introduced him to his Cabinet members, saying, “He has an idea of painting a picture of us all together.” Carpenter noted that, “This, of course, started conversation on the topic of art,” encouraging Lincoln to tell a story about an artist (Thomas D. Jones) sculpting a bust of General Winfield Scott:

The General sat patiently; but when he came to see the result, his countenance indicated decided displeasure. ‘Why, [sir] what have you been doing?’ he asked. ‘Oh,’ rejoined the sculptor, ‘not much, I confess, General; I have been working out the details of the face a little more, this morning.’ ‘Details?’ exclaimed the General, warmly; ‘ the details! Why, my man, you are spoiling the bust!’ ”

The creation of some very spectacular art, however, was still yet to happen on February 9th.

Carpenter had made an appointment for Lincoln to engage in a sitting on that day with Anthony Berger at Brady’s Photographic Gallery located several blocks from the White House. Lincoln’s humorous tale about Scott’s experience probably foreshadowed his own misgivings about appearing before the lens of a camera. As Ohio politician Donn Piatt recalled, Lincoln “had a face that defied artistic skill to soften or idealize.” Carpenter, however, desired those portraits as studies of Lincoln to supplement the live sketches of Father Abraham he intended to create in the White House. Both were to serve him when he painted Lincoln’s visage into his “First Reading” portrait. Writes Harold Holzer:

on a surprisingly large … number of occasions, Lincoln sat for photographers not merely to produce new likenesses that could be marketed individually but at the request of artists who often posed them to supplement life sittings in other media. For these artists, Lincoln photographs were not a final visual record but an intermediary visual resource …  Accurate as they were, photographs did little to disguise Lincoln’s sometimes vacant expression, his so-called photographer’s face.”

Lloyd Ostendorf describes Lincoln’s “photographer’s face” thusly:

Whenever Lincoln posed, a dark melancholy settled over his features. He put on what Mrs. Lincoln called his ‘photographer’s face.’ There is no camera study which shows him laughing, for such an attitude, unfortunately, was impossible when long exposures were required. A man who knew Lincoln, Dr. James Miner, commented: ‘His large bony face when in repose was unspeakably sad and as unreadable as that of a sphinx, his eyes were as expressionless as those of a dead fish; but when he smiled or laughed at one of his own stories or that of another then everything about him changed; his figure became alert, a lightning change came over his countenance, his eyes scintillated and I thought he had the most expressive features I had ever seen on the face of a man.’ “

Understanding the impulse to see Lincoln painted on canvas may be difficult for many to grasp in a day and age when digitized images of Lincoln photographs are instantly available on the internet or reproduced on or in tangible objects ranging from posters and flat-paged books to utilitarian expressions of value such as coins and stamps. Lincoln’s pictures are far better known and appreciated today than ANY of the largely forgotten paintings and sculptures of him derived from those photographic images. Those of us now willing to take a moment to study an image of Lincoln probably do so in the hope of  “seeing” beyond his “photographer’s face” to find some evidence of his genius, foibles, hopes, fears, and emotions. Simply put, most people today want to examine images of the “real” person — the “final visual record” — rather than “outdated” and stylized painted interpretations of the man.

Although Carpenter had never visited Brady’s Washington gallery, it can be presumed he chose that establishment because of the relationship he had struck up with “Brady of Broadway” in the early 1850s in New York City. But the choice of Brady’s establishment did not mean that Brady would personally take and develop the photos. Brady had stopped performing those tasks over a decade earlier due to eyesight issues and the scale of his business.  As of 1864, Brady’s role was more that of an overseer and marketer of his galleries & the cadre of men whom he underwrote to capture the history of the Civil War. Carpenter just as easily could have selected, for example, Alexander Gardner, or any of the several other accomplished photographers who had left Brady to go to work for Gardner’s gallery in Washington, D.C.

For example, on August 9, 1863, Lincoln went to Alexander Gardner’s new studio for a sitting. The President had promised Gardner to be his new gallery’s very first sitter and, thus, arrived there on the day before its official opening. This resulted in 6 poses and many  more images of Lincoln because Gardner used a four lens camera for several of the shots.  Alexander Gardner had another session with Lincoln on November 8, 1863, just 11 days before the delivery of his momentous Gettysburg Address. There were a “great many pictures taken,” in the words of John Hay, one of Lincoln’s personal assistants who also posed with Lincoln and fellow assistant John Nicolay in one of the views. It is clear, therefore, that Lincoln greatly respected and was completely comfortable with Gardner, as were members of his inner circle.

The question must be asked, why did Francis Carpenter entrust to Anthony Berger the hugely important task of creating photographs which he would use to paint Lincoln’s image on a portrait he hoped would be considered one of America’s most treasured pieces of its collective historical record? From where did such trust emanate? Why didn’t he just go to Alexander Gardner, who would have been available because the Union Army’s spring campaign of 1864 in the East was many weeks away from commencing?

Certainly there must have existed a prior relationship between Berger and Carpenter sufficient to engender such trust and that relationship necessarily dated back many years to the 1854 to 1855 time period. It also can be reasoned that Berger’s background as a formally trained painter at the Staedelehe Institute in Frankfurt, Germany and his practiced artistic eye must have attracted Carpenter to him for this assignment. The formal instruction which Berger had received as a painter outshined Carpenter’s paltry formal training. Perhaps, then, Berger was well suited to compliment and augment Carpenter’s skills. It also bears mentioning that when Carpenter later arranged for Secretary of War Stanton to visit Berger for a picture taking session some time prior to February 23rd, such was his complete trust and faith in Berger’s talents and judgment that the session was conducted in Carpenter’s absence. But given that his relationship with Lincoln as of February 9 was just then budding and because of the enormity of the task he faced in trying to get Lincoln’s countenance “just right,” there was no way that Carpenter could possibly miss being present for Lincoln’s first sitting with Berger … or, for that matter, the other two sessions which were to follow. And when Cabinet members couldn’t make themselves available to pose for Mr. Berger, Carpenter stood in for them and posed for Berger’s camera. This Carpenter did on April 26, 1864, according to Harold Holzer, by assuming “the pose he planned to paint [of] Secretary of State William H. Seward” which Berger captured on a glass plate negative now in the possession of Carpenter descendants. Thus, it can be said that Berger served as Carpenter’s “go-to” photographer for all aspects of this important project.

Perhaps, too, Anthony Berger was the cameraman responsible for capturing Lincoln in 5 poses at Brady’s D.C. gallery on January 8, 1864. Each of those views appears to have been taken by a four lens camera. Although it is not known which Brady photographer recorded those views, by virtue of Anthony Berger’s role as manager of the gallery it stands to reason that he played at least some role in their creation and likely shot them unless he was then away from Washington City.

By 3 p.m. on February 9, 1864, Lincoln’s Cabinet meeting had been adjourned and Carpenter joined Lincoln on the front portico steps of the White House to wait for a carriage to be brought up to take them, Mrs. Lincoln, and Tad Lincoln to Brady’s gallery. But after a delay, Lincoln told Carpenter, “Well, we will not wait any longer for the carriage; it won’t hurt you and me to walk down.” Carpenter recounted that the walk “of a mile or more was made very agreeable and interesting to me by a variety of stories, of which Mr. Lincoln’s mind was so prolific.”

We don’t know exactly when Lincoln’s photography session at Brady’s gallery began, who assisted Anthony Berger, or how long it took to complete the session. In fact, Carpenter’s contemporaneous reference in his diary only mentioned — “Got ambrotype of President at Brady’s this P.M.” Apparently F.B. Carpenter at that time didn’t understand the difference between the making of a positive image ambrotype and a negative on a wet-plate collodion glass plate (Berger employed the latter of the two processes). It was only later in his 1866 memoirs, Six Months at the White House, that Carpenter expanded upon the visit and identified Berger as the cameraman on February 9th.

We do know that Lincoln sat through seven poses in front of Anthony Berger’s camera that day. Lloyd Ostendorf  has labeled those views as O-88, O-89, O-90, O-91, O-92, O-93 and O-94 (See Charles Hamilton and Lloyd Ostendorf, Lincoln in Photographs: An Album of Every Known Pose, rev. ed. (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside, 1985), pp. 190–95. We also know that the process involved in preparing a glass plate for an exposure had to occur shortly before its use and required about 5 minutes of time, followed by another 5 minutes to complete the development of each specific negative shortly thereafter.  Thus, even assuming that Berger was assisted by someone who worked on creating the plates as quickly as possible and a second person who focused solely upon their development, it is likely that Lincoln’s session lasted at least an hour by taking into account the time necessary to pose him, to evaluate the natural light filtering into the studio through the skylights, and for other related delays.

View O-88 (below) created by Anthony Berger is known as “The Famous Profile” and “is perhaps the most familiar of [all] Lincoln profiles [created by any photographer],” according to Lloyd Ostendorf.

O-89 3a25449u

The O-88 view was used in conjunction with O-89 (below), the so-called “Penny Profile,” by the artist Victor D. Brenner in 1909 to model the image of Lincoln on the Lincoln-head penny. Both views were shot with a four-lens camera.

O-89 by A Berger-01

O-90 (below) also was taken with a four-lens camera.

NARA 530206a-positive


NARA 530206a-sepia2

O-91 (below) shows Lincoln affecting a “faint suggestion of merriment in his sparkling eyes, as though a smile were about to ignite his masklike face.” This image was adapted into an engraving currently used on the U.S. Five Dollar bill.  It also “inspired many paintings,” according to Lloyd Ostendorf.



O-92 (below) also is a very well recognized image of Lincoln and is known as his “Most Satisfactory Likeness.”

O-92 Oval albumen print, 8 & 1-8 x 6 & 1-8-Bonham's Auctions

Robert Lincoln, Abraham’s eldest son who eventually became U.S. Secretary of War, and the only Lincoln child who survived into adulthood, wrote the following to Frederick Meserve some three decades after his father’s death:

I have always thought the Brady photograph of my father, of which I attach a copy, to be the most satisfactory likeness of him.”

It also was used to create an oval engraving of Lincoln which was affixed to the old Five Dollar bill printed from 1928 until 1995 (below).


Frank Carpenter wrote the following on the back of a cabinet card print of O-92:

From a negative made in 1864, by A. Berger, partner of M.B. Brady, at Brady’s gallery.”

O-93 is my favorite image of Lincoln produced during the February 9, 1864 Lincoln sitting. Berger shot Lincoln seated in his famous “Lincoln chair” — once used by Lincoln when he was in the House of Representatives — looking at a photo album with his son Tad standing next to him peering down at the book. It represents the “only close-up of [Abraham Lincoln] wearing spectacles” and “was issued in huge quantities in many variations, with and without Brady’s permission.” In fact, after Berger left Brady’s employ, he copyrighted and began offering for sale his own retouched version of O-93 (below) shortly after Lincoln’s assassination. This he did from his 285 Fulton St. studio in Brooklyn, NY. For more on that, see “A. Berger Joint opens at 285 Fulton St., Brooklyn.”

19198uO-94 (below) is a full length standing portrait of Lincoln and is possibly the least well known of the seven February 9 views taken by Anthony Berger.O-94 by Berger Feb 9 1864_3a17893u

As noted by George Sullivan, “thanks to these images [taken by Anthony Berger on February 9, 1864] … the face of Lincoln is better known to Americans today than it was in his lifetime.”

Here’s a shout-out to each of the main participants — Anthony Berger, Francis B. Carpenter, Abraham Lincoln, and Tad Lincoln — on the 151st anniversary of the photo shoot which arguably produced our most recognizable images of Abraham Lincoln. Absent the execution of the Emancipation Proclamation, the vision of painter Francis B. Carpenter, and Anthony Berger’s work behind the lens of his camera, none of the photographic images produced at Brady’s Washington D.C. gallery on February 9, 1864 would have come into existence and the world would be a very different place than it is today.

By Craig Heberton, February 9, 2015

Saving Annie Leibovitz: Her Pilgrimage to Anthony Berger’s Lincoln

27 Jul

 NARA 530206a-positive

Girl, Interrupted

The photographer Annie Leibovitz is best known for her magazine shoots of actors, rock stars, models, politicians, and other luminaries appearing on the covers of old-line vanguard publications such as Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue. Her many photographic successes long ago vaulted her into the same exclusive club occupied by many of her subjects — celebrityhood. In more recent years, however, Ms. Leibovitz’s life experiences have sent her veering off in dramatically different directions.

The Big Bounce (Back)

First came the publication of her deeply personal and introspective book titled A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005 (2006), which Sarah Boxer describes as:

“an unholy mix of celebrity portraits and snapshots from her private life, including pictures of herself and of [Susan] Sontag without clothes, of her family members dying and being born, of the hotels she stayed in and the real estate she owned, of herself pregnant at age fifty-one and, most famously, of Sontag laid out on her deathbed in a crinkly black dress. It was a tombstone of a book, heavy, gloomy, and unsettling.”[i]

Rebounding from that controversial publication, the deaths of family members and her partner Sontag, as well as her own personal bankruptcy — all of which severely tested her — Annie Leibovitz began a long-distance pilgrimage, of sorts. Along the way she traveled to many destinations on a photo assignment for no one other than herself. As she embarked on that journey an objective came into focus: to visually capture the power of, and stories behind, historic objects and locations which resonated with her — something more akin to her September 2001 images of Ground Zero, but executed in a far more up-close and personal fashion. At times she found herself moved to tears by objects which once belonged to dynamically creative and larger-than-life figures whom she reveres (including women such as Georgia O’Keefe, Marian Anderson, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, and Louisa May Alcott).

Night (and Day) at the Museum

Her favorite and most compelling photographs of objects from her travels hither and yon were placed in a book she aptly titled Pilgrimage (2011), the text to which she wrote with the help of Sharon DeLano. Scenes taken in places such as Gettysburg, which Leibovitz first visited as a child, also are represented.

The book has spawned several exhibitions of the photographs appearing on its pages, including at several institutions known less for their works of art than their displays of historically compelling objects and images, such as the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. Presently, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL is hosting an “Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage” exhibition through August 31, 2014.

To Save A Life

Ms. Leibovitz’s description of her underlying motivation for the book reveals that Pilgrimage just as easily could have been christened “Salvation:”

“I NEEDED to save myself. I needed to remind myself of what I like to do, what I can do … There was a spiritual aspect to this journey at first. It didn’t stay at that level — because I began to feel better. But somehow, it saved me to go into other worlds.”[ii]

So how exactly did photographing anything other than living people “save” Annie Leibovitz and in what way did this open up new worlds to her? Leibovitz’s several interviews explain how she came to the realization that an inert object with a storyline or context connecting it to an inspirational historical figure can metaphorically “speak” to us, the living, on a very personal level. She also concluded that it was possible to photograph those objects in a way that would allow others to form their own powerful connections to them and the famous people to whom they once belonged.

Deep Impact

Ms. Leibovitz’s insights, interestingly, emerged at a time that physical objects from our nation’s past are losing much of their appeal, especially to the youngest generations of digitally-obsessed Americans. To the historically challenged, old objects merely represent “stuff” that is irrelevant to their lives and symbolically linked to a past they often care little to know. Perhaps Ms. Leibovitz’s photographs and accompanying narrative in Pilgrimage will arouse their curiosity to explore exactly why for several years a famed photographer NEEDED to focus her camera on historical objects rather than the hottest celebrity de jure. In Leibovitz’s own words:

“I had to learn to photograph objects. We don’t know [a famous person like] Thoreau, do we? We have only his work, and his things. When I first saw the cane bed he slept on, I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t know how to deal with it … I have a bit of a feeling that I’ve had it with people. But you don’t ever get away from people, really. And these are pictures of people to me. It’s all we have left to represent them. I’m dealing with things that are going away, disappearing, crumbling. How do we hold on to stuff?”

Being There

One object which Ms. Leibovitz was drawn to photograph and feature on two pages of Pilgrimage merits special mention. Unlike nearly all of the other objects photographed for that book, Leibovitz was not attracted to it because of who once owned it or physically handled it.

Her picture of this unique object is compelling on several levels, not the least of which is that it verges on qualifying as the product of a celebrity photo shoot. In a virtual sense, Ms. Leibovitz pointed her cutting-edge digital camera directly at the visage of Abraham Lincoln. Although space-time continuum barriers sadly prevented her from photographing Lincoln in the flesh, she still managed to gain access to the National Archives to photograph what may be an original wet-plate glass negative[iii] of four images of Lincoln created when he was seated in front of a multi-lens camera operated by Anthony Berger on February 9, 1864 in Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C. photographic gallery. To view Leibovitz’s photograph of the Lincoln plate appearing in Pilgrimage, click here.[iv] Photographing this negative offered Annie Leibovitz the closest experience to “being there” with one of the most influential American figures of all time and a man who enjoys an exalted position in the pantheon of our most famous celebrities.

NARA 530206a-sepia2


At first blush, the four side-by-side negative images of Lincoln (backlit on a photo tray) are eerily ghost-like in appearance.

“It is this physical, and yet somehow ghostly, aspect of photography—its “spooky action at a distance” quality (to quote Einstein out of context)—that gives photography its particular aura. And this intensely interests Leibovitz.”[v]

The glass plate images might even remind some of the handiwork of William Mumler, a Boston and New York-based photographer from the mid-19th century who created expensive studio portrait photos into which he inserted apparitional figures made to resemble deceased loved ones. Mumler claimed to be able to photograph spirits which magically appeared around his paying customers in the midst of a studio session. Joining a long list of other Mumler hoax victims, Mary Todd Lincoln visited his studio in the early 1870s to pose for a photo into which Mumler inserted the extremely wispy, bleached image of something looking sort of like her dearly departed husband standing over her with both of his hands lovingly resting upon her shoulders (as well as a less detailed white figure presumably representing her departed son Willie).[vi] Although very touching and reassuring for Mrs. Lincoln — who thought the photo was legitimate because she claimed to have introduced herself to Mr. Mumler under a pseudonym — it still was a fake.

Mary Lincoln-The Strange Case of William Mumler_p266

Images of Mrs. Lincoln appeared in thousands of carte de visite prints sold both before and after her husband’s death.[vii] An example of a Brady photo of Mary Todd Lincoln copyrighted in 1862 appears below, left, and possibly another example from the same photo session, courtesy of the National Archives, to the right:

Mary Todd Lincoln taken by Brady-1862-02 Portrait 

As she mourned for her husband, much of the nation mourned with Mrs. Lincoln by placing her calling card-sized image in their respective family photo albums. Mary Todd Lincoln would have been immediately recognizable to a then-successful big city photographer like William L. Mumler, even if he had never before met her, simply because he had handled and probably sold dozens upon dozens of pirated prints of her pictures taken in other photography studios, a practice then widespread among many professional photographers.

But there is nothing fake about the item photographed by Ms. Leibovitz; it is an unadulterated object. Adding to the dramatic visual effect of Anthony Berger’s delicate glass plate negative, two of its Lincoln images are beset with bisecting cracks from which pieces of glass have broken off from the slide. The consequences of rough handling over the years have extracted their toll. If Mr. Mumler was still alive, he might insist that the missing triangular-shaped wedges of glass are shaped like opposing dagger tips which hauntingly meet one another at the top and bottom of one of Lincoln’s hands, metaphorically nailing that hand to the arm of the chair. Were these cracks symbolically created by someone from the afterlife or are their locations and shapes just a mere coincidence? The correct answer must be: “Mum-ler’s the word!”

And That’s a Wrap

On yet another level, Leibovitz’s photo represents something far more meaningful than just a picture of a 150 year-old glass negative. I suppose that the object Annie Leibovitz photographed can be thought of as Lincoln’s version of the Shroud of Turin. Considering it from that perspective, it might even be viewed  as a form of a holy relic.

The glass negative images were produced in consequence of Lincoln’s physical presence, during a few moments that particles of light bounced off of him, passed through the camera’s four optical lenses, and interacted with the chemicals on the surface of the exposed glass plate. This, in turn, imprinted his reversed image onto the plate in a negative format. In a sense, Lincoln MADE the images on the glass plate. This photo-chemical process (completed after “developing” and “fixing” chemicals were applied to the plate in a darkroom) rendered the three-dimensional Lincoln as a series of two-dimensional negative images on a thin piece of glass, harkening back to roughly how some people believe a crucified Jesus Christ  imprinted an image of himself on his wispy death shroud now said to be in Turin, Italy.

During her visit to the National Archives, Annie Leibovitz was able to see and photograph several other famous glass plate negative portraits of Abraham Lincoln taken by Anthony Berger in that same February 9, 1864 sitting, including the famous “Penny View” of Lincoln used as the basis for the image on the U.S. penny and the two Berger views used to create Lincoln’s image on the old and new $5 bills (two of those images appear below, courtesy of the National Archives; the one on the top, dubbed the “Famous Profile,” was used in conjunction with the very similar “Penny Profile” view by Victor D. Brenner for the Lincoln-head cent):

Portrait NARA 07-1347a

Leibovitz’s reaction to that experience was described by Sarah Boxer in the following way:

“When speaking of the photographic plates of Lincoln that were made by Anthony Berger at Mathew Brady’s studio (which were used as templates for the five-dollar bill and the penny), [Ms. Leibovitz] described them as “very spiritual” because ‘the photons that bounced off Lincoln had once passed through’ them. It is eerie to think that Lincoln’s very body physically affected the plates that captured his image.”[viii]

The glass plate negative slides of Abraham Lincoln housed at the National Archives also are “very spiritual” simply because they reveal moments of time, 150 years ago, burned onto a tiny layer of chemical film clinging to the slides’ surface. In Boxer’s words, Lincoln’s:

“body acted on the light in such a way that the light struck the photographic plate or negative and physically changed it to form an image. Every photograph [made in this way] is an indexical trace, a brand made by its subject.”

Using even more visceral terms, Boxer described all non-digital photographs produced on negative film as like  “cattle branding: burning an impression into the cow’s hide, so that it will be forever linked to its owner.”

Jurrasic Park Meets the Nutty Professor in 3-D

Yet another metaphor borrowed from Christianity can be used to describe the inherent spirituality of Anthony Berger’s glass plate negative of Lincoln. In a sense, that object offers its viewers the chance to see a version of Lincoln resurrected from the dead and visually brought back to life into our modern spatial world of three dimensions. To achieve this result, we need only to reverse the process that converted Lincoln’s 3-D physical being into a series of 2-D negative images on a remarkably thin piece of glass. But how? What mad alchemist could possibly achieve this crazy sounding task?

Well, here’s how. The images of Lincoln were “branded” onto the glass plate by the photographer’s use of  a single camera with at least one row of four side-by-side lenses. The spacing of those lenses more-or-less mimicked the distance between a human’s eyes. Consequently, the viewer can experience a 3-D effect when a set of those image pairs are viewed stereoscopically. Seen in this manner, Lincoln is optically “brought back to life” again in all three of his glorious dimensions.

Lloyd Ostendorf, co-author of Lincoln in Photographs: An Album of Every Known Pose, has concluded that Anthony Berger used a multi-lens camera in order to speed up the process of mass producing prints of Lincoln’s image. This means that at least the photographs of Lincoln shot with a multi-lens camera were taken — from Anthony Berger’s perspective — with the primary objective of selling a great number of prints (published by E.& H. T. Anthony & Co.) to the public. An unintended consequence of that business decision by Anthony Berger, however, was to permit future generations the ability to stereoscopically bring Abraham Lincoln “back to life” in 3-D from several moments in time on February 9, 1864.

Little Big Men

The pose struck by the Great Emancipator was choreographed and captured in a several second exposure as the result of the collaborative efforts of two men — Anthony Berger (the photographer) and Francis B. Carpenter (a painter who arranged for the session with Lincoln and helped orchestrate his poses). Mr. Carpenter convinced Mr. Lincoln to sit for this and twelve other photographic poses despite the President’s great impatience with the long, drawn-out process entailed in posing for what he called “sun pictures.” In fact, so impatient was Lincoln on the day of the February 9, 1864 photo shoot, that when his carriage was delayed, he chose to walk from the White House to Brady’s Pennsylvania Avenue studio and dragged Carpenter along with him. Carpenter quoted Lincoln as saying “I’m pretty much split up for our having had to wait like this.” It is amazing that Lincoln later was able to sit through seven poses at the studio on that day. The collodion process then used in making wet-plate negatives was lengthy and tedious both for photographers and the sitters.

Carpenter essentially was an “artist-in-residence” (in the words of Harold Holzer) at the White House for a six month period during the first half of 1864, enjoying what he described as “the freedom of [Lincoln’s] offices at almost all hours.”[ix] His interaction with Lincoln reveals both the special relationship he forged with the President and the great trust Lincoln placed in him. Carpenter obtained this level of intimate access after he pitched the following project to his President — to create a painting of Lincoln and his cabinet members in a scene entitled “The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet.” Carpenter’s goal was to memorialize as historically accurately as possible what he considered to be one of the greatest moments in the history of mankind.

As far as Francis Bicknell Carpenter must have been concerned, the photos of Lincoln which he arranged for Anthony Berger to shoot were to serve a singular purpose — to provide him with positive prints of Lincoln in poses desired for use as figure studies for The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet. Any other poses struck by Lincoln and photographed by Berger, such as his “quiet family moment” view of Tad Lincoln standing next to his father while both stared at a photo album prop, would have been shot on Berger’s own initiative as they had absolutely no relevance to Carpenter’s painting of the The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet. Granted, Carpenter later used that father-son photo as the very rough basis for two separate paintings (on a much, much smaller physical scale) titled “President Abraham Lincoln and Tad,”[x] which is part of the White House collection, and “The Lincoln Family,” at The New York Historical Society; but they and other similar paintings were afterthoughts and sidelights to his main objective. From the beginning, he envisioned that his Emancipation painting would be mass-produced in the form of engravings for all to see and enjoy, making his work well known, immensely popular, and a key part of America’s cherished historical record.

It is not known how it came to pass that Anthony Berger served as the photographer of Lincoln on each and every occasion that Carpenter arranged for a presidential photo session. Three Lincoln photo shoots occurred, on February 9, April 20, and April 26, 1864, the last of which was set in Lincoln’s study/cabinet room in the White House where the Emancipation Proclamation was first read. Some unknown cameraman (perhaps Berger?) also took five views of Lincoln at Brady’s Washington studio with a four-lens camera on January 8, 1864 and Thomas Le Mere photographed Lincoln in a standing pose on about April 17, 1863 when he worked for Brady in D.C.,[xi]  demonstrating that other Brady men could answer the call to photograph the President. Carpenter also relied upon Anthony Berger to photograph at least some of the Lincoln cabinet members who were to appear in his painting, including Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.[xii] Carpenter was not present for the session with Stanton, trusting Berger to follow his prior instructions on how to pose Stanton.[xiii] On one occasion, Carpenter even posed himself in front of Berger’s camera as a stand-in for Secretary of State William Seward to create the desired figure study pose for Seward in “The First Reading.[xiv]

All of this points to the conclusion that Carpenter chose Berger to work exclusively on this several month long project and that he did so both because of their familiarity with one another and his admiration for Berger’s talents. If Francis Carpenter had preferred a man from one of the other highly-regarded studios in D.C. (such as Wenderoth & Taylor, at which Lincoln was photographed sometime in 1864, for example) or even a different Brady cameraman, he surely would have brought in someone other than Anthony Berger to help him with what he thought would become his greatest masterpiece and elevate him to the status of the exalted Gilbert Stuart or John Trumbull who famously painted George Washington.

Although Messrs. Holzer, Borritt, and Neely assign all of the credit to Francis Carpenter for how Lincoln was posed in the Berger photos, I don’t think that Berger’s formal training as a painter in Frankfurt, Germany should be discounted. Those three Lincoln scholars assert that:

“the great Lincoln photographs which became the lasting models for coins, stamps, and currency were composed under Carpenter’s eye: sittings before the same photographers did not produce equal results when Carpenter was absent.”[xv]

This conclusion ignores one point — that we only definitively know of a handful of the photos which were taken by Anthony Berger when he worked for Brady. In each such instance, that knowledge comes entirely from Carpenter’s published and unpublished writings. All of Berger’s known photographs involved Carpenter’s collaboration, perhaps with the exception of the supremely compelling photo that Berger took of Lincoln with his youngest son Tad. Thus, we don’t have a body of Berger’s work independent of Carpenter against which to compare. Granted, Carpenter “did have a keen eye for portraiture and documentary groupings,” but who is to say that Anthony Berger never took any other portrait photos without Carpenter’s involvement of equal or greater artistic merit? The Anthony Berger photographs, in the words of  David Hackett Fisher, showed Lincoln “as a wise and experienced leader, with an aura of growing strength and confidence.”[xvi] Should that  achievement be attributed solely to Carpenter, despite the fact that “there were doubts about Carpenter’s reputation even in his own day” and one modern art historian unfairly characterized him as a “very boring” artist? Or is it more likely that the combined talents of Carpenter and Berger produced photographs of Lincoln beyond either of their individual powers?

Branded (in a Good Way)

Besides creating memorable photographs “branded” onto photographic film, Annie Leibovitz has excelled at other forms of branding — in particular, linking the names of celebrities to her widely-recognized photographs of them. To think of a celebrity and then immediately conjure up in one’s mind their image from a Leibovitz photograph is a supreme achievement. Declares Sarah Boxer, “she is a genius at it.” By so succeeding, Leibovitz also has created her own brand.

The original concept of creating compelling photographic images of celebrities was most successfully executed in America first and foremost by the man who employed Anthony Berger for approximately a decade — Mathew Brady. It was Brady who created the widely recognized “Brady of Broadway,” “Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Gallery,” and “Photograph by Brady” brands. The celebrities photographed in Brady’s studios included Presidents, members of royalty, noted politicians, philosophers, religious figures, ambassadors, high-ranking military officers and heroes, actors, and even members of P.T. Barnum’s circus. These photographs of stars made Mathew Brady, in kind, a veritable rock star in his day. Few knew and hob-knobbed with as many of the rich and famous as Mathew Brady. Now, exactly 170 years after Brady opened his first studio, there are not many photographers as successful in the pursuit of ever-lasting images of celebrities as Ms. Leibovitz. At some point in her career of creating the equivalent of trademark images of stars, Annie Leibovitz has become her own brand just as Brady once did.

In the same way that Annie Leibovitz has proven herself a modern artistic genius by imprinting in our minds immediately recognizable photographs of celebrities — such as John Lennon naked and curled around Yoko Ono, Dolly Parton paired with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dan Akyroyd and John Belushi as the “Blues Brothers,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” Demi Moore naked and pregnant,  etc.  — with “the props, the settings, the clothes, and even the gestures and expressions that will cling to each person’s image … linking one to the another,”[xvii] so too were Anthony Berger and Francis B. Carpenter geniuses. Their collaboration, which resulted in thirteen known poses of Lincoln, produced several which are immediately recognizable and considered iconic a full century and a half later. Yet, because those photos were linked for the better part of the last 150 years only to Mathew Brady, any fame and notoriety due to Messrs. Berger & Carpenter has gone largely missing. Their story would have a modern-day parallel if, for example, it were to be demonstrated conclusively that the crème de la crème of Annie Leibovitz’s most iconic photographs over the last several decades were not taken by her, but by an obscure younger protégé in her employ essentially unknown to the art world [Note: this is nothing more than a hypothetical used for illustrative purposes].

Excuse My Dust

In her “Annie Leibovitz’s Ghosts” piece, Sarah Boxer quotes part of a passage (and the title) from Walt Whitman’s 1871 elegy to Abraham Lincoln, among his “Leaves of Grass” compiled works, which Whitman began after Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865:

This dust was once the man,
Gentle, plain, just and resolute, under whose cautious hand,
Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age,
Was saved the Union of these States

Boxer then rhetorically asks “when you hear the name Annie Leibovitz, what images spring to mind?” Answering her own question, she listed several easily recollected celebrity photos by Leibovitz. But Boxer also posits that as a result of Leibovitz’s photo of Anthony Berger’s multi-lens glass plate negative of Lincoln appearing at pp. 89-90 in Pilgrimage, “maybe the dust of Abraham Lincoln” should be added to that list.

Deservedly so, Lebovitz’s genius and artistic talent are widely known. But when most people hear the name Anthony Berger, do images of anyone, let alone Lincoln, spring to their minds? Do they realize that most, if not all, of the images of Lincoln branded into their memories from his visage on U.S. stamps, coins, currency, and countless books and advertisements were derived from Anthony Berger’s photographs? The unfortunate answer to both questions is “most certainly not.”

“When Mathew Brady and Anthony Berger first looked at the … photographs that were taken at the Brady studio that February afternoon in 1864, they surely had no idea what they had actually created. They could not have realized the countless different ways in which the images were to be used or the enormous impact they would have. But it is thanks to these images … that the face of Lincoln is better known to Americans today than it was in his lifetime.”[xviii]

Ms. Leibovitz’s picture of Anthony Berger’s photographic negative gives me hope that the time finally has come, 150 years after the fact, for us to collectively tip our hats in recognition of the brilliance of Anthony Berger and Francis B. Carpenter for so artfully collecting “the dust” of Lincoln on several glass plates.

I encourage anyone intrigued by these sentiments to make their own pilgrimage to Anthony Berger’s Lincoln images by viewing them online in high resolution at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. See, e.g., http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=lincoln%20anthony%20berger. I also highly recommend Ms. Leibovitz’s book Pilgrimage and the current and future exhibitions associated with that book.


By Craig Heberton, July 26, 2014, © 2014


To read an interesting story about  the struggle to save tangible historical objects in a digital world, see Jessica Bennett’s “Inside The New York Times Photo Morgue, a Possible New Life for Print” (May 7, 2012) at: http://www.wnyc.org/story/206643-wnyc-tumblr/

“To hold a newspaper in your hand that your great grandmother … might have read, especially in a world that is today so focused on speed, there is something very human and visceral about it.”


Update on October 27, 2014:

Here’s another example of how knowing the history of an otherwise ordinary looking object completely changes its meaning: http://video.pbs.org/video/2365332583/


Update on November 30, 2014:

10 Questions for Annie Leibovitz;” Ms. Leibovitz answers ten head-on questions posed to her by intervewer Sarah Luscombe on behalf of Time.com subscribers  — http://content.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,3335573001_1862545,00.html


Update on January 6, 2015:

Read how one man’s “stuff” left sitting untouched in a room for nearly a century presents us with a real time capsule looking back to a life sacrificed in World War I and how things once were.



[i]  Boxer, Sarah, “Annie Leibovitz’s Ghosts,” The New Yorker, March 19, 2012.

[ii]  Browning, Dominque, “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” The New York Times, October 30, 2011.

[iii]  “Brady had a special process for copying glass or collodion negatives so that the duplicate plate could not be distinguished from the original.” Ostendorf, Lloyd and Hamilton, Charles,  Lincoln in Photographs: An Album of Every Known Pose (1963),  at p. 165.

[iv]  To view Leibovitz’s photo of the plate in Pilgimage, see: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/11/08/pilgrimage-annie-leibovitz/; or http://books.google.com/books?id=xwsLIRIHDj0C&q=berger#v=snippet&q=berger&f=false; or  http://victoriacullen.typepad.com/queenwithoutacountry/page/2/.

[v]  Boxer, Sarah, “Annie Leibovitz’s Ghosts,” The New Yorker, March 19, 2012

[vi]  “The Ghost and Mr. Mumler,” American History Magazine, February 8, 2008. http://www.historynet.com/the-ghost-and-mr-mumler.htm; Moye, David, “William H. Mumler, Spirit Photographs, Amazed Audiences with Ghostly Images,” The Huffington Post, August 22, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/22/spirit-photographs-_n_3795717.html.

[vii]  To see some of her photographs, visit http://rogerjnorton.com/photos/marytoddgallery.html.

[viii]  Boxer, Sarah, “Annie Leibovitz’s Ghosts,” The New Yorker, March 19, 2012

[ix] Holzer, Harold, Borritt, Gabor S., and Neely, Mark E., “Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900): Painter of Abraham Lincoln and His Circle,” American Art Journal, at p. 87, fn 2, quoting Carpenter, Francis B., “Personal Impressions of Mr. Lincoln,” New York Independent, April 27, 1865, p. 1.

[x]  An image of the painting can be seen at Holzer, Harold, Borritt, Gabor S., and Neely, Mark E., “Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900): Painter of Abraham Lincoln and His Circle,” American Art Journal, at p. 87. Interestingly, the relative positioning of Lincoln and Tad was swapped in this and Carpenter’s other painting, as if the underlying photograph was horizontally flipped. The part in Lincoln’s hair in the painting, on the left side of his head, is different than the way it is depicted in all of his February 9, 1864 photos, on the right side of his head. This was an anomaly, in that Lincoln’s part otherwise is on the left side of his head in all other photographs. Carpenter wrote on the back of a cabinet-sized print of the Berger photograph used as the basis for the old U.S. $5 bill: ‘From a negative made in 1864, by A. Berger, partner of M.B. Brady, at Brady Gallery ….[Lincoln’s] barber by mistake this day [February 9, 1864] for some unaccountable reason, parted his hair on the President’s right side, instead of his left.” Ostendorf, Lloyd and  Hamilton, Charles,  Lincoln in Photographs: An Album of Every Known Pose (1963),  at p. 177. This language also was quoted by Carpenter’s grandson and then owner of the cabinet card sized print, Emerson Carpenter Ives, in a letter to the editor, published in Life Magazine, March 7, 1955.

[xi]  http://peerintothepast.tumblr.com/post/65008148133/abraham-lincoln-by-smithsonian-institution-on. Ostendorf, Lloyd and  Hamilton, Charles,  Lincoln in Photographs: An Album of Every Known Pose (1963),  at pp. 128-129.

[xii]  Carpenter wrote in his diary on February 23, 1864, “Found that Berger at Brady’s had made a picture of Mr. Stanton in the position I told him to put him in …” Ostendorf, Lloyd and  Hamilton, Charles,  Lincoln in Photographs: An Album of Every Known Pose (1963),  at p. 186. In Diary of Gideon Welles: Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Volume I (1911), at p. 527, Welles writes that on February 17, 1864 he went to Brady’s studio “with Mr. Carpenter, an artist, to have a photograph taken. Mr. C. is to paint an historical picture of the President and Cabinet at the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.” Although no mention was made of whether Berger was the photographer, it is likely that he was.

[xiii] To see the sketch of Stanton which Francis B. Carpenter presumably completed from Berger’s photograph, as well as several other figure studies sketched by Carpenter of Lincoln’s cabinet members, see Holzer, Harold, Borritt, Gabor S., and Neely, Mark E., “Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900): Painter of Abraham Lincoln and His Circle,” American Art Journal, at pp. 72-73.

[xiv]  Holzer, Harold, Borritt, Gabor S., and Neely, Mark E., “Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900): Painter of Abraham Lincoln and His Circle,” American Art Journal, at p. 67.

[xv]  Ibid.

[xvi]  Fisher, David H., Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas (2004), at p. 347.

[xvii]  Boxer, Sarah, “Annie Leibovitz’s Ghosts,” The New Yorker, March 19, 2012.

[xviii]  Sullivan, George, Picturing Lincoln: Famous Photographs that Popularized the President (2000), at p. 82.

The First Photo Op: Anthony Berger’s White House Photos of Lincoln

14 Apr

April 26, 1864, Washington, D.C. – A century and a half ago, for the first and only time, Abraham Lincoln was photographed inside the White House, thereby inaugurating, in the words of Harold Holzer, a now “routine White House occurrence — the photo opportunity.”  Francis B. Carpenter, a portrait painter, arranged for and oversaw that session in what is presently called the Lincoln Bedroom. That day he jotted in his diary: “Today Mr. [Anthony] Berger from [Mathew] Brady’s came up and took several pictures for me of Mr. Lincoln in the Cabinet room. Succeeded very well.” Carpenter then enjoyed unfettered access to the Lincolns in the White House and desired more photos of the President to use as studies for his painting that now hangs in the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol – The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet (A.H. Ritchie engraving of the painting, Library of Congress, below):

3a05802v LCcrop

To that end, Lincoln posed exactly where the event which Carpenter wished to paint had occurred — by the table in his office/Cabinet Room at which he eventually presented a reworked Proclamation to his Cabinet members on September 22, 1862 before signing it. The proclamation specified that it would take effect on January 1, 1863 in any states still part of the Confederacy. Although Lincoln didn’t remember exactly when he first read the Proclamation to his cabinet – July 22, perhaps? – Carpenter chose to memorialize that event. Nevertheless, his final work product on a canvas measuring 9 feet by 14.5 feet at least represented the creative process resulting in the final document. To view images of the privately owned Lincoln White House photos (or for which rights of any use come with a fee), see:

http://www-tc.pbs.org/wnet/lookingforlincoln/files/2008/12/mes63081.jpg; Harold Holzer’s “Abraham Lincoln’s White House,” White House History No. 25 (2009) at http://www.whitehousehistory.org/history/documents/White-House-History-25-Holzer-Lincoln-White-House.pdf;  Betty C. Monkman’s “Images of the Executive Mansion, 1861-1865,” in Seale, William, The White House: Actors and Observers (2002 ), at p. 68 http://books.google.com/books?id=yqK2iJaPYKkC&q=berger#v=snippet&q=berger&f=false.

The photographer who captured these historic views of Abraham Lincoln at the White House was German-born Anthony Berger, then the 32 year-old superintendent of Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C. gallery. He took the pictures with a four-lens camera he had carted to the Cabinet Room from Brady’s Washington gallery, along with other delicate and cumbersome equipment and chemicals. Lincoln had been photographed twice before by Anthony Berger at Brady’s 352 Pennsylvania Ave. Photographic Gallery of Art, resulting in the creation of several of our most beloved and widely known images of President Lincoln (see examples, below, courtesy of the Library of Congress & the National Archives). As noted by George Sullivan, “thanks to these images  … the face of Lincoln is better known to Americans today than it was in his lifetime.”  Picturing Lincoln: Famous Photographs that Popularized the President (2000), at p. 82. Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert, described the Anthony Berger studio portrait which was later used for the engraving on the U.S. five dollar bill (middle, below) as “the most satisfactory likeness of [my father].”

3a10739r-O-88-by Berger on Tuesday, February 9, 1864  3a07486r-O-92-Portrait used for the engraved bust of Lincoln that appeared on the United States five dollar bill for many years from 1914 to 2007 Landscape

Insufficient sunlight in the White House’s Cabinet Room made photographing Lincoln a significant technical challenge. But Berger overcame this obstacle, somehow making do with the paltry natural lighting from the outer windows. Although the conditions prohibited making photos on par with studio creations, the three Berger photos of Lincoln met, if not exceeded, Carpenter’s expectations. Berger accomplished this despite an unanticipated hiccup. It occurred when the President’s youngest son, Tad, locked Anthony Berger and his assistant out of a closet they were using as a darkroom in the midst of the photographic shoot — and then fled with the key. Abraham Lincoln arose from his chair, left the room to find his son and the key, and later returned to unlock the door. The resulting hoopla probably resulted in the smudging of Lincoln’s face in the only White House photo showing him standing. We know about this — and other events and discussions at the White House — thanks to Francis B. Carpenter’s gem of a book, Six Months at the White House With Abraham Lincoln (1866).

It is altogether fitting and proper that an engraving of Francis B. Carpenter’s The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation found its way onto the original cover of Doris Goodwin Kearns’ book A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, from which was adapted the screenplay for  Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie Lincoln. Just as that movie serves as a modern-day recreation of Lincoln’s push for the 13th Amendment, Anthony Berger’s White House photos of Lincoln represent our only photographic recreation of the birth of the Emancipation Proclamation, which Harold Holzer describes as “the most history-altering document ever promulgated in [the White House]” and Carpenter, the painter, called “an act unparalleled for moral grandeur in the history of mankind.”

Here’s a salute to the 150th anniversary of the first Presidential photo-op, brought to us courtesy of Anthony Berger, Francis B. Carpenter, Abraham Lincoln and son Tad, and the Emancipation Proclamation (Carpenter, below, in a Brady daguerreotype, from the Library of Congress; along with the first page of the Emancipation Proclamation, from the National Archives).

3c10148vc    514_pg01by Craig Heberton, April 26, 2014

(released a few days early due to travel plans)