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Exhibit tells tales of the Civil War in photos

April 24, 2014 11:00 AM
Fran Simon fsimon@tulane.edu
The Pattillo Brothers, Company K, “Henry Volunteers,” Twenty-second Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, 1861–63

The Pattillo Brothers, Company K, “Henry Volunteers,” Twenty-second Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, 1861–63, quarter-plate ruby glass ambrotype with applied color, David Wynn Vaughn Collection, by an unknown artist, is one of the nearly 300 color images in the book, Photography and the American Civil War, by Jeff Rosenheim.

Photography, invented just 20 years before the American Civil War, is the subject of an exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art, curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, who received a master of fine arts from Tulane University in 1986. Rosenheim has been a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 26 years.

Rosenheim's show, “Photography and the American Civil War,” is on display at NOMA through May 4.

Rosenheim says the exhibit is quite emotional and may take two visits to fully absorb.

The Civil War created an incredible demand for photography, he says. “The first thing any soldier did was to get his uniform and then have a picture taken. … This was the test of the American spirit, and people wanted to record the moment in a very specific way. These photographs convey the poignancy and the extraordinary emotional tenor of the war.”

Rosenheim scoured records from photography historians, Civil War specialists, the military, newspapers, the Library of Congress, art museums and websites developed by individuals uploading family portraits to select the work for the exhibition.

In addition to depicting the Civil War, the show captures the evolution of photography.

“Photography has come of age,” says Rosenehim. “It has gone from a medium that was begrudgingly accepted to a mature art form. … It's been a great trajectory and for me it began at Tulane.”

He currently is curator in charge of the Department of Photographs at the Met and is the author of the exhibit's catalogue.

Rosenheim supervises a staff of about 12 people at the Met, and they develop approximately 10 shows each year. His plans for the future include an exhibition of photographs related to “tools of the trade,” showing people in various occupations.

Admission to view “Photography and the American Civil War” at the New Orleans Museum of Art is $15 for adults and $8 for Tulane students with valid identification.