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Showcasing the Artists Behind the Lens

My fascination with photographers who produced Civil War era portraits is rooted in my earliest days of collecting. Part artist, technologist, chemist, meteorologist and entrepreneur, these multidisciplinary masters captured the likenesses of soldiers, sailors and other participants in hometown studios and makeshift tent galleries in military camps. The visual record they left behind of the faces that braved the momentous engagements of a brutal war is a testament to their grit and determination.

The only verifiable image of Rees is this woodblock portrait from the front of a 36-page advertising pamphlet printed in 1854. This rare booklet was luckily saved by a long-forgotten camera club in 1930 and is the only surviving example. Courtesy New York Public Library, Special Collections.
The only verifiable image of Rees is this woodblock portrait from the front of a 36-page advertising pamphlet printed in 1854. Courtesy New York Public Library, Special Collections.

You can imagine my excitement when Dom Serrano informed me that he would write a profile of one of the greats behind the lens—Charles R. Rees. Moreover, that it would include new biographical details and tips for how to spot signed and unsigned photographs from his studio.

Dom needs no introduction to students of Civil War photography. He is the author of Still More Confederate Faces (1992) and wrote about Rees a decade ago.

Dom worked closely with the collecting community for images to illustrate his narrative. I’m grateful to Paul and Gloria Barr, Dave Batalo, Dan Binder, Dicky Ferry, Dave Mark, Maartje de Nie, Terry Orr, Paul Reeder, Dan Schwab, Fred Taylor and Lamar Williams for sharing from their collections. Dom also tapped into The Liljenquist Family Collection at the Library of Congress.

The story of Rees joins the list of photographers profiled in the magazine. In recent years, we’ve featured Samuel Walter Gault, a Tennessean working in Bermuda; William Kurtz, a German immigrant who became one of New York City’s leading photographers in the late 19th century; the Linn brothers of Point Lookout at Chattanooga, Theodore M. Schleier and his wartime galleries in Memphis and Knoxville; David Heckendorn of Pennsylvania, an amateur daguerreotypist who became an approved photographer for the Army of the Potomac, and others. Adam Ochs Fleischer’s Behind the Backdrop column includes vignettes of many more photographers.

The profiles of these photographers are part of the larger story of the war. If it were not for them, we’d have a gap in the visual record of our country—not to mention our collections!

Ronald S. Coddington
Editor & Publisher

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