The nation’s capital was a center for photography during the war, and Alexander Gardner set up his new studio in May 1863 at Seventh and D Streets, just a few blocks from that of his former employer, Mathew Brady. Gardner split with Brady after the success of his Antietam photographs. The signage gives a full range of Gardner’s services, showing how he catered to the market for photographic images; the main sign reads “News of the War.”
Not as flamboyantly costumed as in his first self-portrait, this image of Alexander Gardner shows him as a workingman, which was his family’s heritage back in Scotland. Gardner’s proficiency as a photographer was based in part on his manual dexterity; he was a master at coating the glass-plate negatives with collodion, which formed the plate’s light-sensitive emulsion. By the beginnings of 1863 James Gardner was working with his brother in Washington.
Timothy O’Sullivan (1840–1882) and his brother-in-law, William Pywell (1843–1886), also got their start with Brady. O’Sullivan teamed up with Gardner both at Antietam and Gettysburg and later had a successful career on his own. After the war, Pywell traveled west with Gardner to photograph the plains and the Native Americans living there.