Skip to Main Content

Photography and Nation Building in the Nineteenth Century

Makeda Best, Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography, Harvard Art Museums On the 180th anniversary of photography’s introduction to the world in 1839, The Eye of the Sun: Nineteenth-Century Photographs from the National Gallery of Art offers an in-depth look at the development of the medium throughout its first 50 years. In this lecture held in conjunction with the exhibition on October 6, 2019, Makeda Best explores the function of slavery and enslaved people in visual narratives about the Civil War. Working through the photography by and associated with the Scottish-born photographer Alexander Gardner and his Washington, DC–based photographic corps, Best compares and contrasts portrayals of slavery and enslaved people and demonstrates how Gardner contextualized chattel slavery within a broader and decades-long discussion about the meaning of American democracy. This program was made possible by the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography. The Eye of the Sun is on view from September 8 through December 1, 2019.