Abraham Lincoln, 1861

Alexander Gardner
Albumen silver print

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Listen to historian David Ward discuss this image

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The first sitting in Washington

Lincoln was the first president after photography truly came of age. He embraced the new technology, sitting frequently, and he was interested in both technological issues and composition. Perhaps because of his early struggle to make himself into somebody of substance—to make himself visible—Lincoln was acutely aware of the power of image-making.


Although Lincoln knew, and joked about, the fact that he was a difficult subject, he was not camera-shy, producing a continuous portrait record of his time in office. Attuned to public opinion, Lincoln used portraits to keep himself in the eye of his fellow citizens.


When he arrived in Washington, Lincoln quickly arranged to have himself photographed at Alexander Gardner’s studio. These photographs were the first widely disseminated pictures of the president with his newly grown beard.

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