Alexander Gardner
A Man for His Time

Born in Scotland in 1821, Alexander Gardner was a grocer, jeweler, newspaper publisher, secretary of a utopian colony, officer of several benevolent societies, and premier Civil War photographer. When Gardner died in 1882, he left behind a history of good works and a legacy of photography and photojournalism. The recognition of his contributions faded, however, in the latter part of the 1800's as the histories were written. Mathew Brady, Gardner's first employer in the United States (and a consummate salesman), was still alive. His help in preparing the "official histories" conveniently omitted the contributions of Alexander Gardner. Gardner's work began to achieve new prominence about 30 years ago.

It is now time for his voice, as expressed in his life and work, to be heard.

Presentation Themes and Areas of Interest

Alexander's presentations can be tailored to specific themes and areas of interest.

History and Sociology

Alexander Gardner - a man made for the times in which he lived.

Gardner combined a mixture of businessman, craftsman, innovator, and concern for his fellow man.

What were the key factors in Gardner's success as a premier photographer?

Doug McGovern
Civil War Battlefields - after the battle is not a pleasant time and place.

History gives us the pictures of battles, the strategy and tactics of the leaders, and the stories of the heroes. Gardner was the first to bring home the carnage of the battlefield.

What was special about the time and place that made battlefield photography so important during the Civil War?

Photographing President Lincoln - sittings from pre-election through assassination and execution of the conspirators.

Gardner captured images of Lincoln between 1861 and 1865. These clearly show the personality and aging of the President during these tumultuous times. Gardner photographed Ford's Theater and other scenes regarding Lincoln's assassination.

What can we learn from the series of photographs of Lincoln?

Recording the West - Kansas Pacific Railroad survey and photographing Indians.

Gardner had a sensitivity for the downtrodden, the working man, and the native. This was demonstrated by the views he captured in the Railroad survey and in photographing Indian treaties.

What part did photography play in opening the west to settlement?


Photojournalism and Ethics

The Birth of Photojournalism - the first real battlefield photographs.

Gardner participated in the birth of photojournalism. His pictures were published, distributed, and used to record and preserve the history of the war. It was not until the Gettysburg photos were closely examined in 1975 that it was noticed that Gardner not only added props to the views, he moved bodies to make the photograph more vivid.

Does history make the image or does the image make history?

battle scene

Optics and Chemistry

Early Photography - an exercise in chemistry and patience.
The chemistry of photography involves the capture of light into a medium that can record it and present it back to the viewer.

How has modern photography met these challenges?

twin cameras


Stereophotography - how do we really see depth?
Early photography showed depth by using cameras with two lenses and then presenting two images through the use of a stereoscope.

Is this really how we see depth?

Retinal Disparity Stereo

Special Programs

Three different program formats are available

Historical Performance

Doug McGovern
A performance includes a 30 to 45 minute presentation by a specific individual with a question and answer time that involves both the character and the scholar.

This program is most appropriate for meetings, conferences and general presentations.

Facilitated Discussion

Doug McGovern
A facilitated discussion involves the audience in direct interchange. That is, a short presentation by the historical individual is followed by an interactive discussion involving all participants including the scholar and the character being portrayed.

This program format allows a small group to explore the issues that the character emphasizes in his presentation. Examples might be the meaning of heroism, the ethics of photojournalism, or the lifestyle of the times.

Facilitated discussions fit into an hour or can extend to several hours depending on the topic, participants and available time.

Demonstration and Training

Doug McGovern

Alexander Gardner, as a master of stereo photography, demonstrates how stereo photographs are made and then participates (with the scholar) in hands-on-training.

Demonstrations include discussion of the physiological basis for stereo vision and a brief demonstration of the product. No specialized hardware is required for the short program.

Half day and full day training includes the actual taking of photographs and making stereo pictures by the students. Hardware support is required for training.

Study Guide

A detailed study guide providing details of Gardner's life, references, and comprehensive areas for discussion is available from Alive With History.
Contact Doug McGovern to request a copy.


A one page brochure on Alexander Gardner is available. Click here for download.

Doug McGovern