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Life Before Photoshop?

Before digital cropping, the extract tool, quick mask technique and layers, there was photomontage—the process (and result) of making a composite photograph by cutting and joining a number of other photographs. The composite picture was sometimes photographed so that the final image could be converted back into a seamless photographic print. This technique arose in the 19th century and became a popular modern-art form with the Dada movement of the early 20th century.

General Grant at City Point. 1902 Crowd at President Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration. March 4, 1865

The Library examines this technique investigating the mystery of a purported photograph of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. In the image, what appears to be Grant on horseback in front of his troops at City Point, Va., during the Civil War is actually a combination of three images, with Grant’s head being the only portion of the photograph belonging to him.

Thanks to a question posed by a Library researcher, staff of the Prints and Photographs Division got to the bottom of the situtation using items from their own collections.

The division holds more than 7,000 images related to the Civil War. Included in the collection are works by noted portrait photograph Mathew Brady, who was the uncle of Levin C. Handy, the culprit of the aforementioned Grant “photo.”

The Grant historical record has needed some straightening-out, previously. Earlier this year, another researcher noticed a discrepancy in the Library's online Civil War photographic negative collection. Negatives had been labeled as being either the Grand Review of the Armies or the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant. Carol Johnson, a curator of photography at the Library, spotted the misidentification while checking old logbooks and finding the annotation “Lincoln?” in the margin. Looking closely at the images she recognized Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration. Only two other photos of Lincoln's second inauguration were previously known, but a careful visual comparison confirmed that these three negatives portrayed the same event. The images are of soldiers and crowd, soldiers lining up and soldiers in formation.

The Library’s Prints and Photographs Division houses almost 14 million visual materials. More than one million digitized images are accessible on the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. These include the more than 170,000 images that comprise the FSA/OWI Collection. The collection’s 1,600 color images are also accessible through the online photo sharing community known as Flickr.

A. General Grant at City Point. 1902. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-DIG-ppmsca-15886 (digital file from original photograph), LC-USZ62-21992 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: PRES FILE - Grant, U.S.--Civil War & with generals [item] [P&P]

B. Crowd at President Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration. March 4, 1865. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-DIG-cwpb-01431 (digital file from original neg. of left half) and LC-DIG-cwpb-01430 (digital file from original neg. of right half); Call No.: LC-B811- 1284 [P&P]