Sunday, July 19, 2015

Images

I had a recent conversation in which a friend objected to the colorization of documentary footage of World War II because, for most of us growing up, that war happened in black & white.

Geoffrey Norman asks "what accounts for the unyielding fascination" in the Civil War and so little interest in the War for Independence. A similar bias may account for the difference:
..."[O]ne wonders, what accounts for the unyielding fascination a century and a half after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox? Several years ago, I put this question to Richard Ketchum, who was a neighbor and the author of many splendid books about the American Revolution. He had begun writing about the revolution when he was a young editor at American Heritage. One of his colleagues was Bruce Catton. As Ketchum told it, he and Catton went out to lunch one day and decided to divide up American history. He would take the revolution and Catton would take the Civil War.
“His books were bestsellers,” Ketchum said, sounding amused, “and mine were well reviewed.”
They were better than that, but the point stands. Assuming their books were of equal literary merit, one would, of course, expect Catton’s to be more widely read. But why?
“Photography has something to do with it,” Ketchum said. “There was no Mathew Brady at Saratoga or Yorktown. We have these very formal, lifeless paintings of Washington, which don’t compare to those haunting photographs of Lincoln, worn down by the war. Or of the dead, lying in the sunken road at Antietam.” Ketchum had much more to say on this matter, but the point about photography struck me and stuck with me. ....
I bought, or Dad bought for me, both Ketchum's American Heritage book on the Revolution and Catton's on the Civil War. I still have them both, one illustrated with paintings and the other largely with photographs.