Ulysses S. Grant helped Mathew Brady usher in an era of candid portraiture, records of soldiers portrayed in moments of composure, of quiet between salvos. Though this is clearly a perilous calm; Grant’s poise is tenuous, and his surroundings are as temporary as his glance is fleeting.
There’s an extensive discourse on this image, courtesy of Jeff Galipeaux, originally published in 2002 on Salon.com. An excerpt:
I have always found this portrait tremendously compelling. The shape of the tent, the line descending to the right like the graph of a falling stock market (the fate of the South, mapped out in the Northern command post?), the bright foreground water, the elegant folding chair, the muck, the tree trunk, the sky, all of these planes of interest and textural details surrounding the nominal subject of the photograph.
Current photographers whose work is of soldiers, without the context:
Ellen’s photographs are originally done as wet collodion negatives, which gives her a straight-line connection to Brady and Grant (and accounts for the reversed type that appears on these soldiers’ name tags). She also makes inkjet prints, which allows her work to reach a larger audience.
Suzanne Opton’s “Soldier” web site
Suzanne Opton’s personal web site, including her expansions on the “Soldier’s Face” theme that use images of citizens who have been bystanders to war
Ellen Susan’s “Soldier Portraits” web site