WASHINGTON, D.C. PHOTOGRAPHER Alexander Gardner constructed a wooden platform to create an elevated perspective from which to photograph President Lincoln at his inauguration.

WASHINGTON, D.C. PHOTOGRAPHER Alexander Gardner constructed a wooden platform to create an elevated perspective from which to photograph President Lincoln at his inauguration.

BRUNSWICK

A rare photograph of President Lincoln’s first inauguration at the U.S. Capitol on March 4, 1861, was unveiled at Bowdoin College’s Museum of Art on Thursday. The inauguration was the first ever to be captured on film, and marked a watershed moment for photography, as well as for American history.

The photograph is a paper-based salt print that can only be exposed to low levels of light for two weeks at a time. It was recently acquired through an auction for an undisclosed sum.

“This is a pioneering example of American photojournalism,” said Frank Goodyear, co-director of the museum, at the unveiling. “Photography was a new medium, and was only invented about 20 years before this photograph was taken.”

Goodyear said photographs were “extremely difficult to take outdoors before 1860,” and most pictures were taken indoors.

“To add a piece to our museum that speaks to the origin of photojournalism in this country is exciting,” said Goodyear. “Perhaps more important, though, is the extraordinary moment that the picture helps to reveal. It is an unprecedented moment in American history.”

The Civil War would begin shortly after the inauguration, and Lincoln presented some of his most poignant anti-war rhetoric in his inaugural address that day, denouncing slavery and succession while calling for unity.

Washington, D.C. photographer Alexander Gardner constructed a wooden platform to create an elevated perspective from which to photograph Lincoln.

“Gardener also had an opportunity before the inauguration to have a photography session with Lincoln himself,” said Goodyear. “It would turn out that he would take more photographs of Lincoln than any other photographer. The image on the $5 bill is a Gardner picture, and the image crafted for the Lincoln Memorial is based on a Gardener image.”

Photography was a complicated process in the early 1860s, and Gardner would have only had time to take a couple of shots during the inauguration.

“When you look at a photo like this and think about photojournalism today, you can take lots of pictures with these digital cameras — spontaneous pictures that capture flickers of different moments. But back in the early 1860s, with only a few shots, a lot went into creating a picture like this.”

Bowdoin history professor Patrick Rael said the photograph captures a moment where America defined “not only the rules of the game, but the principals they uphold.”

Anne Goodyear, Frank Goodyear’s wife and co-director of the museum, believes history is still being built on moments like Lincoln’s inauguration.

“I hope that this is a lesson that our democracy continues to embrace, and we continue to put ourselves out there, make ourselves accessible and able to be scrutinized when that is appropriate,” said Goodyear. “That was a charged moment, and we are at a similarly charged moment today. That’s what democracy is all about, confronting those sorts of challenges and moving forward.”

The photograph can be viewed during normal museum hours, Tuesday-Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 1-5 p.m.

THE LINCOLN PHOTOGRAPH can be viewed during normal museum hours, Tuesday-Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 1-5 p.m.


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