Reed Bontecou: Masterpieces of Civil War Portraiture at The Robert Anderson Gallery

     The Burns Archive is pleased to announce the opening of the first major commercial exhibition of Reed B. Bontecou, MD’s Civil War photography. Bontecou’s photographs challenge the master photographers of his era.
Sepember 28 - Nov 12, 2011  
Reception Oct 6, 6-8pm

Robert Anderson Gallery24 West 57th Street, Suite 503
New York, NY, 10019
Hours: 11am -6pm, Tues - Saturday

Robert Anderson Gallery Press Release:
The 43 albumen photographs on view at Robert Anderson Gallery compromise a rare, and for the most part, first time ever public view of the unique medical images by Reed Brockway Bontecou, MD, Surgeon in-Charge of Harewood U.S. Army General Hospital, Washington, D.C., from the Collection of Stanley B. Burns, MD.  In recognition of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Robert Anderson Gallery offers this rare collection of albumen portraits and cartes de visites of wounded soldiers, selected from Bontecou’s personal albums.  The photographs represent a unique opportunity to view some of the most moving documents of the Civil War and the associated human casualties. 

Reed Bontecou was responsible for pioneering, and taking, the largest number of photographs of wounded soldiers during the Civil War and was the single largest contributor of photographs and specimens to the Army Medical Museum and medical publications of the time. His close up images of surgery, anesthesia, and patients posing with their pathological specimens were unique to his time. Many photographs are of patients pre- and post- operation, views of patients showing the progression of specific treatments, or the various stages of diseases. After the war he organized his photographs into albums laying them out, anatomically from head to foot wounds, and loosely alphabetically by soldier’s name.

Bontecou’s images are beautifully posed, and the sitters seem almost serene in his gaze, elevating clinical photography to an art form. They speak a universal language of war, or rather, what it can do in human terms. Bontecou was a master of exposing the nature of the sitter. Beyond the wounds, the amputations, and the gangrene, the subject is presented as naturally as possible. It should be noted that smiling in photographs during this early period was very rare and the subject put on his best expression. Some images are further enhanced by Bontecou’s own red pen, detailing the trajectory of the bullet that impacted on the patient. These images, with the hand drawn lines, were part of his personal Harewood Hospital teaching album.

Also on view are his Cartes de Visites, an amazing visual document of the medical aspects of war and examples not equaled until fifty years later during WW1. The CDV album is the pioneering effort by one physician to document war wounds and to use photography to teach physicians how to care for these wounds. Due to their historical precedence there can be no doubt that Bontecou’s CDV album, kept at Harewood U. S. A. General hospital, is the premier medical photograph album of the Civil War.  No other large compilations of war-time clinical images exist, with over 570 images. On view will be one page of the album, comprised of 12 single CDVs, and four single CDVs from The Amy Medical Museum, Photographs Contributed by R. B. Bontecou.