Following Alexander Gardner: The Portrait Gallery Heads to Manassas

This December, take a look back at the Portrait Gallery in 2015, including the amazing programs, exhibitions, and events that took place this year.

Back in the nineteenth century, photojournalist Alexander Gardner’s photographs of Civil War battlefields helped bring the conflict into the home. Americans didn’t have to travel great lengths to see the sweeping fields that became graves for so many soldiers. Even those on the home front could understand the immense tragedy of the war through Gardner’s images, which were published in volumes and viewable in his studio.

Because his images were so accessible, it’s amusing that 150 years later, the Portrait Gallery dragged 40 people out of bed on a Saturday morning to drive out to Manassas in Gardner’s name, especially since the location can be seen via Google Maps. But that’s exactly what we did on the morning of October 24, 2015.

Back in September, the museum opened “Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859–1872.” In honor of the exhibition, we decided that it would be interesting to bring members of the public on a tour of the site featured in the show. For our first-ever off-campus “Instameet,” the Portrait Gallery invited members of the group Instagrammers DC (IGDC) to tour the battlefields with “Dark Fields” curator David C. Ward. Much like Gardner, IGDC documented the experience through photography. Unlike Gardner, however, their images were shared via smartphone and viewable by people around the world.

A couple of images from the trip are included in this blog, but if you would like to see it all, I encourage you to search the hashtag “#DarkFields” in Instagram. While scrolling, it’s interesting to think back on the history of Manassas, as well as the history of photography. It’s pretty incredible that in under two centuries, America has gone from a country torn by war to a nation united by technology.

Civil War