Whitman’s Camera like vision

Whitman’s account of the war is similar to the account presented in the photos in Trachtenberg’s chapters, because they both narrate a story about the civil war. Whitman’s account tells a story about the civil war through his narrative, and Trachtenberg’s account tells a story through the photographs. People wanted to be shown images that were as close to reality as possible. “Photographs are the popular historicism of our era; they confer nothing less than reality itself” (287).  Whitman’s account can be compared to Trachtenberg’s photographs because people believed his narrative because he was an actual observer in the civil war, and many did not question his journal entries. Similarly, people did not question the photographs in Trachtenberg’s account “ it seemed to trouble no one that he (Brady) was not the cameraman who made the pictures he signed “Brady” (289).  Whitman’s narrative appears to be valued just as much as the photographs in Trachtenberg’s account. Whitman’s eyes were like camera lens, capturing scenes from the war. This is made evident in Whitman’s journal entires in particular, “Down at the Front.” In this account Whitman describes his visits at the camp hospitals in the army. Without making it inside the hospital, Whitman describes the scene he captures outside the hospital doors. “I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, a full load of one-horse cart…several dead bodies lie near…” Whitman’s camera lens vision is so vivid that it has the ability to paint an image of a deadly scene in one’s mind. In comparison to Trachtenberg’s photo titled “A Burial Party” the same image that was previously described by Whitman can be painted from the photograph as well. Plies of dead bodies, amputated feet, legs and arms…

However, in Trachtenberg’s “Albums of War” he questions knowledge and points out that Brady was not able to capture actual images during the civil war. Brady’s photographs are presented to his audience as if he was the actual photographer who took the pictures. In addition, Brady signs his name on each photo, which makes the picture look like his own. Trachtenberg argues that Brady is not the individual who took the photographs, and manipulated them to satisfy his interest. Trachtenberg exposes Brady, and seems shocked that no one is troubled that Brady was not the cameraman. It seems like Trachtenberg is trying to enlighten his readers to question images presented to them, because “credit proves to be misleading” (289), and what was made became a form of communication.

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1 Response to Whitman’s Camera like vision

  1. Dominique Zino says:

    I agree–Whitman’s descriptions are incredibly precise (his “camera-like” view of a scene has to be, at least in part, the result of the years he of being a journalist).
    You’re also right that Trachtenberg is asking us to question what it means to “author” a photograph (is it signing one’s name on it that makes one the author, is it staging, is it taking the actual picture?). His larger argument, though, is about the “album” as a genre for organizing information. What does he conclude about the albums he discusses in the third part of the chapter?
    (If you can respond to this, I’ll happily add a point on to your blog score. Email me if you make any changes to alert me to check this post again.)


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