Alexander Gardner 18211882

James Gardner (1829?)
Albumen silver print, 1863

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; gift of Larry J. West

As a young man in Scotland, Alexander Gardner dreamed of establishing a cooperative settlement in the United States. He and others purchased land in Iowa for this purpose, but Gardner never relocated there himself. Instead, he settled first in New York and later in Washington, D.C., where he found employment with photographer Mathew Brady.

In 1863 he left Brady to open his own studio, specializing in portraiture and in the photographic documentation of the Civil War. Well known for his battlefield landscapes and his portraits of President Abraham Lincoln, Gardner was commissioned by the Kansas Pacific Railroad in 1867 to create a series of photographs that would publicize the construction of this second transcontinental line. Gardner’s work on the southern plains represents some of the earliest photographic views of this region. The following year he photographed the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty with the Lakota in present-day Wyoming.