The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection
Photographers and Their Studios
Photographic portraiture flourished during the Civil War. Ambrotype and tintype photographs were not only affordable, but a finished product could be produced in a matter of minutes. Some soldiers visited photographic studios before they went off to war, leaving their portrait at home with loved ones. Others sat for itinerant photographers who set up temporary studios near the army camps. Soldiers would exchange these images through the mail with family and friends. Some of these makeshift "studios" are clearly represented in the photographs in the exhibition.
This African American soldier was hastily posed in front of a plain backdrop of a make-shift studio. Another soldier on the right waits for his turn to face the camera.
This young sailor posed in front of a naval-themed painted backdrop in a professional photo studio. The soldier paid an extra fee to have the flag carefully hand-colored.
In the North, the price of ambrotypes and tintypes ranged from 25 cents for the smallest images to $2.50 for the largest. In today’s dollars these portraits would cost anywhere from approximately $6.00 to $60.00. In the South during the war, there were fewer opportunities to sit for a portrait. Commercial portrait photographers and photographic supplies were frequently not available. A few Southern photographers held on to their businesses by raising prices to compensate for the high price of photographic supplies and the inflated Confederate dollar. Select Southern photographers, such as George S. Cook, could charge as much as $20.00 for a sixth-plate portrait.
Most of the photographers of the ambrotypes and tintypes in the Liljenquist Family Collection are unknown. Photography studios often posed their clients in front of distinctive painted backdrops. These backdrops may provide clues to the identity of the photographic studio. Photographer Enoch Long, who worked at Benton Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri, is known for using this painted backdrop of a Civil War scene.
Confederate photographer Charles R. Rees is represented in the collection by thirty ambrotypes. Rees operated a studio in Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War. He was one of the few photographers who signed his images directly on the glass plate.
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Charles R. Rees, photographer (note Rees's signature under the sitter's arm). Unidentified soldier in Confederate frock coat with gold trim. Sixth-plate, hand-colored ambrotype. Liljenquist Family Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
[Digital ID # ppmsca-30604]
Charles R. Rees, photographer. Unidentified soldier in Confederate uniform of Co. E, "Lynchburg Rifles," 11th Virginia Infantry Volunteers holding 1841 "Mississippi" rifle, Sheffield-type Bowie knife, canteen, box knapsack, blanket roll, and cartridge box. Sixth-plate, hand-colored ambrotype. Liljenquist Family Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
[Digital ID # ppmsca-37159]