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Indiana University Art Museum

Teachers' Resources

Ruins in Charleston, S.C.

George Barnard, Ruins in Charleston, S.C. (1865 or 1866)

George Barnard (1819–1902) was born in Coventry, Connecticut, and spent much of his childhood traveling throughout the United States following his father's death when he was six years old. His Congregationalist family was religiously devout, committed to the virtues of education, culture, and social responsibility.

Regrettably, very little information about Barnard's life has survived. Despite being one of the most important and respected photographers of his day, he left very few published statements and personal papers. However, from newspapers, photographic journals, and government records, one can assemble a skeleton of his career. The most noteworthy and acclaimed body of work Barnard produced was at the outbreak of the Civil War, when he was sent to photograph various locations in Virginia and Washington. This portfolio, Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, are among the most iconic images of the Civil War. Barnard's photographs are both extraordinary records of the devastated Confederacy, from Tennessee to Atlanta and South Carolina, and beautiful, carefully composed works of art filled with picturesque touches.

The Charleston photographs are particularly important, as they highlight the artistic sensibilities that permeate his documentary work. Although Barnard was contracted to create military records, these photographs always show a concern with aesthetics. Concerned with spatial tension between foreground and background, Barnard employed motifs and compositions common in landscape painting. Trees, water, human figures, and man-made structures are carefully framed to produce a reflective mood and provide picturesque interests. For Barnard, the South was a defeated realm filled with loss, death, and destruction, containing important moral lessons about war, heroism, and slavery.