Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.)
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 17.6 x 22.8 cm (6 15/16 x 9 in.)
Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Not on view
Few of the photographs in the Sketch Book evoke the intense sadness of A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia, one of the seven photographs Gardner included by the still-obscure field operative John Reekie. It is the only plate in the second volume that shows corpses, here being collected by African American soldiers. Four soldiers with shovels work in the background; in the foreground, a single laborer in a knit cap sits crouched behind a bier that holds the lower right leg of a dead combatant and five skulls—one for each member of the living work crew. Reekie’s atypical low vantage point and tight composition ensure that the foreground soldier’s head is precisely the same size as the bleached white skulls and that the head of one of the workers rests in the sky above the distant tree line. It is a macabre and chilling portrait—literally a study of black and white—that is as memorable as any made during the war.
Plate 94 in Volume 2 of Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War