Have you ever wanted to understand the life of Union soldiers on the front in the Civil War? A new exhibit at the Friends of H.H. Bennett studio gives you a chance to do just that.
The new exhibit features the work of George H. Houghton, uncle of the famed H.H. Bennett. Houghton’s photography features Union soldiers and camps, and according to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s David Rambow, the photographs were his outlet for not being able to serve.
“He couldn’t fight in the war because he wasn’t in the best of health,” Rambow said. “He was kind of older. They wouldn’t let him join the army, but he wouldn’t be denied. So he took his camera… put it in a wagon and went out on the road.”
Many of Houghton’s pictures were taken in his home state of Vermont, and are a mix of candid and posed shots. One particular group shows the construction of a makeshift “set” for group shots; Houghton erected a makeshift tent and framed it between a pair of rifles stuck in the ground next to each other and a tree. He sat groups of soldiers in this set for portraits.
According to Rambow, Houghton set out for a more atypical sort of war photography from the start. He wasn’t looking for corpses and the heat of battle; he wanted to find daily life on the front.
“It’s not so much the generals and the battles and the dead laying on the field,” Rambow said. “It’s more what the daily routine was, and what they were doing.”
The displayed titles of the photographs in the exhibit are all the titles Houghton listed for the images, but the studio has gone the extra mile. They sought out quotes from soldiers in those images, wherever they may have been printed, to give the photos more depth.
However, the exhibit is not simply photos lining the walls. A replica of the camera Houghton would have used is on display, alongside a portable darkroom he used to develop film. Several of H.H. Bennett’s personal effects from the war are on display as well.
But according to Jenna Loda Eddy, another lead on the exhibit alongside Rambow, one of the most important parts is a recreation of what Houghton would have had to do in order to get his work published in a newspaper.
“When you wanted to get a photograph published in a newspaper at the time, you couldn’t just drag and insert, it actually needed to be converted into an etching, illustration or drawing of some sort,” Loda Eddy said. “And then printed into a newspaper. Hence, ‘Practice your Printing.’”
The table that holds the exhibit’s interactive portion is a big hit with visitors, especially kids. According to Loda Eddy, her goal in this part of the attraction was to make something kid-friendly, and thereby “everybody-friendly.”
The Friends of H.H. Bennett Studio will also welcome a series of speakers for this exhibit. The speaker list is published at friendsofhhbennett.org or on their Facebook page.