British photographic history

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The Scot who shot Abraham Lincoln .....

.... well, not literally. That was carried out by John Wilkes Booth.

Only 119 photos of Lincoln are know to exist today. Hence, top prices are paid for them. Out of this, only 24 feature Lincoln standing in full pose. But did you know that the majority of them will very likely be 'shot' by our very own Scottish photographer, Alexander Gardner!

Gardner (October 17, 1821 – December 10, 1882) was an apprentice silversmith jeweller in his early teens, and subsequently owner and editor of the Glasgow Sentinel newspaper. It was only by visiting the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London in 1851 that changed Gardner's life and sparked an interest in photography. There he saw the work of American photographer, Matthew Brady. He moved his entire family to the US in 1856, and even managed to get a job overseeing Brady's Washington DC's gallery until 1862. Talk about influencing one's life! They parted company as apparently Brady had a habit of attributing his employees' work as "Photographed by Brady".

During this time, Gardner steadily built his own reputation as a portrait photographer. Around the same period, Abraham Lincoln became President, while the threat of Civil War loomed. And so the story goes that this Scottish photographer was soon recommended to Lincoln for the position of chief photographer. In 1866, Gardner published a two-volume work, Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. Each volume contained 50 hand-mounted original prints.

But did you know that it would be Gardner who took the last-ever portrait photographs of President Abraham Lincoln prior to his assassination four days later on Good Friday, April 14? And this Scotsman and his camera were present at Lincoln's funeral. He was also the only photographer allowed at the public hanging of the President's assassination conspirators. After 1871, Gardner gave up photography and helped to found an insurance company!

In this video, expert Daniel Weinberg of the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, Inc, presents a short and fascinating documentary about Gardner and examines some of his most important photographic images.

Photos: Alexander Gardner (1821-1882); Gardner's cracked glass portrait of Abraham Lincoln, widely considered to be the last photograph taken of the president before his death; The execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, July 7, 1865.

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