Author Interview--Will Gallagher (Civil War Places)

Niels Eichhorn's picture

Hello H-CivWar readers,

today we feature Will Gallagher to talk about his photograph in Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict Through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians.
William Gallagher is a professional photographer and owner of Gallagher Studios in Austin, Texas. 

To start, can you talk about your contribution to the project? How did you decide which pictures to take, did the author of the essay suggest the location? Was there any consideration to do a comparison between a historic battlefield photo and your image? 

WG: This project was so much fun.  I worked with each of the authors personally and they gave me their thoughts on the location they were going to write about.  Some of them had a very specific shot in mind — Stephen Berry perfectly described the church at Shiloh to me — he wanted a shot looking at the altar with light streaming in from the front window.  When I arrived at the church, it was late afternoon and there was light streaming through that window!  So on that one, I executed exactly what the author had in mind.

On others, the author would just give me a few details about the site and then I would go shoot it.  Once I had pictures I would share them with my father and Matt and we would all agree on a top 5-8 images to show to the author and let them choose their favorite from those options.  This worked out very well as we all got to have a say in what would appear in the book and we were all happy with the final images that were chosen.

When my father initially talked to me about this project he said he wanted to use modern pictures to pair with the thoughts of each author.  I loved Lens of War and the original images from the period, many of which I had never seen.  I have also done a series of infrared images throughout my career that are done in black/white.  We actually talked for a bit about doing the shots for the book in this infrared style (image below), but it is not right for the subject matter and we came to our senses :-).  For this book we knew that the best option would be shooting in traditional black/white to maintain a similar look to Lens of War, but with modern-day images that the authors could choose to match with their essays.

I loved every part of this project.  It was fun to drive across all the different parts of the country to shoot each of the sites and an honor to work with all of the authors.  And to have a book with my name and my father’s name on the cover is the dream of a lifetime. So fun and rewarding.

Shiloh Church is a powerful location to visit. Of all the locations, which one spoke the most to you as the photographer? Why? Furthermore, seeing these places as a photographer and not as a historian, what were your thoughts about the presentation of history and preservation of these locations as historic reminders of a troubled past--did you feel more needed to be done, did they bring contemplation?

WG: I think the locations that spoke to me most as a photographer were

Emancipation Oak
This is a beautiful oak tree — huge, beautiful canopy and reminded me of a live oak tree we have here in Austin called Treaty Oak.  Live oaks are very interesting because they have so much texture to them and the really old ones with lots of knots on the trunk and huge canopies are great to photograph. I could also picture the makeshift classroom they used the tree 
for and tried to think back to what the tree would have looked like before the city was built up around it.  It’s one of the most impressive trees I’ve ever seen in person.

In my normal job I do quite a bit of architectural work so the other places I liked were the buildings.  

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Pittsburgh is really impressive, and the statue of the Civil War soldier in front of it made for a very nice picture.  There are lots of different textures and details in this building that make it really interesting.  They were very creative in using concrete in lots of different ways to give the building lots of character.  It also sits up on a hill so it sort of looks over the area in downtown Pittsburgh and is generally very impressive.  If this building was a person you would address it as “Sir"

This is probably my favorite picture.  It is the Milwaukee Soldiers Home and I think it is a great building.  I think it would make a great location for a horror movie — you almost expect to see bats and dragons flying around it.  It was fenced off and empty when I shot it.  They would like to rehab it but are waiting on funds so it is just sitting there right now. I love the roof on this building and we got a great sky for it on the day I was there — when I first arrived it was a grey, foggy day but as the morning went on the fog burned off and the light was hitting the building just right.  

As far as presentations of history and places that affected me on a more emotional level the Petersen House was the most powerful.  I kept thinking about the huge difference in the way they tried to help Lincoln and how the same situation would be handled now.  The room where they treated him and he died is this small, very plain, humble room.  I tried to imagine the chaos of that night and the people coming in and out of the house as they tried to save his life.  There is just no way that would ever happen now.

I think one of the main things I learned from this experience is that there are a bunch of ways to effectively present history. Some, like the small flags I photographed for Peter Carmichael’s essay, are very personal and hidden from view unless you are looking for them. Others like the caves at Vicksburg are literally gone. There is nothing left.  After shooting all of the places the biggest impression I was left with is that people become interested/inspired to study the Civil War for many different reasons.  I liked that I took pictures of open spaces, monuments, grave markers, buildings, etc — all very different things but all tied together by the war. 

Will, thank you for this enlightening conversation and for taking the time to share some aspects of your work for this book with us here on H-CivWar.