Monday, March 30, 2009

Zooming with Errol Morris

One of the many, many things Thee New York Times web site does so smartly is to create a space for things like Zoom, an irregular blog/feature by Errol Morris that (and this is my lame-ass explanation) examines how photographic images capture and distort moments from the real world. A new Zoom began on Sunday: Morris is attempting to track down the identity (both in a basic and a more conceptual sense) of the father of this boy in this photo, who was an unknown fatality at the Battle of Gettysburg.

The photo (an ambrotype, to be precise) has its own history. As an October 19, 1863 Philadelphia Inquirer put it:

"After the battle of Gettysburg, a Union soldier was found in a secluded spot on the field, where, wounded, he had laid himself down to die. In his hands, tightly clasped, was an ambrotype containing the portraits of three small children, and upon this picture his eyes, set in death, rested. The last object upon which the dying father looked was the image of his children, and as he silently gazed upon them his soul passed away. How touching! how solemn! What pen can describe the emotions of this patriot-father as he gazed upon these children, so soon to be made orphans!"

This marks part one of five in the series; check out this three-parter about a famous Crimean war photo.

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