Mathew Brady, the Father of Photojournalism
Born to Irish immigrant parents in 1822, Mathew Brady was the youngest of three children. Not much is known about his earlier life until he moved from Warren County to Saratoga, New York at the age of 16. Brady became a student and follower of William Page, the famous portrait painter and Samuel Morse, Page’s former teacher. Morse had met Louis Jacques Daguerre while visiting France in the 1830’s and then returned to the US where he would promote Daguerre’s new invention for capturing images known as the daguerreotype. Brady became one of Morse’s first students at the studio he opened in New York.
Brady soon opened his own studio in New York City (1844) and within a year, he was exhibiting the portraits he took of many famous Americans. He would go on to open his Washington, D.C. studio in 1849 and in 1851, would marry Juliet, the woman he had met when he first moved to the city and opened his new facility. Mathew Brady won numerous awards for his earlier work, all of which were daguerreotypes. Ambrotype photography became the popular method in the 1850's and would be replaced by the larger paper prints produced using glass negatives known as "albumen" prints.
It was these prints that Mathew Brady would use for his famous photo documentation of the American Civil War. Shortly after the war started, Brady became captivated with the idea of capturing and immortalizing the Civil War in photos. So he applied to General Winfield Scott for the purpose of traveling to the battle sites to do his work and would eventually apply to Abraham Lincoln. In 1861, Mathew Brady was given permission by Lincoln on the condition that he finance his own photographic adventures.
Mathew Brady went on to earn his current place in photojournalistic history (and US History for that matter) by using the Civil War battlefields as his photography studio. He photographed Presidents and Generals from the Union and Confederacy. Brady would go on to create over 10,000 plates at a cost of over $100,000 which he paid out of his own pocket. He thought that the US Government would pay for them so that he could recoup his costs and get out of debt. However, the government refused and Mathew Brady had to file bankruptcy. Brady would further be devastated when his wife Juliet died in 1887. Combined with the loss of his eyesight, Brady fell into a deep depression that he never recovered from. He died alone and penniless in January of 1896.