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Sept. 24, 2014

Fort Ontario Exhibit Honors Pioneer American Photographer

OSWEGO - A temporary exhibit on the life and photographic images of pioneer American photographer George N. Barnard has been installed at Fort Ontario State Historic Site, 1 E. 4th St., Oswego, NY. The Onondaga Historical Association has loaned the exhibit which will be displayed in Officer's Quarters One until Columbus Day when the fort closes for the season. Regular fort admission prices will be charged and include entry to the exhibit.

George Barnard was born on December 23, 1819 in Coventry, Connecticut and moved to Central New York with his family after his father's death in 1826. He then moved to Tennessee with a sister and her husband, returning to New York a few years later in 1842. In 1843, Barnard married Sarah Jane Hodges and the couple eventually had two children. By 1846, he worked as manager of the Oswego Hotel.

Barnard soon opened his own daguerreotype studio in Oswego, the first of its kind in the U.S., and is credited for taking the first "spot-news" photographs when he recorded the great Oswego fire of 1853. The fire, which began at the Fitzhugh's and Company Flour Mills on the east side of the harbor, eventually destroyed eight city blocks and left 2,000 people homeless.

While in Oswego, Barnard demonstrated an interest in documenting the lives of the working class and poor as shown in his iconic "The Wood Sawyer's Nooning." In 1854, Barnard partnered with William Nichols and opened a studio in Syracuse while working to promote the new ambrotype process as well as paper prints and tintypes. Barnard was hired by the firm of Edward Anthony and moved to New York City in 1859 to take stereographs. This provided him an opportunity to travel to Cuba and Niagara Falls in between1860 and 1862. While in Cuba, Barnard strove to showcase differences between poor plantation workers and the extravagant lives of Spanish nobility.

During the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, Barnard was employed by Matthew Brady and captured many different aspects of the conflict. He photographed various locations in Virginia, including Harper's Ferry, Bull Run, and Yorktown. In December 1863, he was hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Army of the Cumberland, to document subjects and sites assigned to him. Barnard accompanied Major-General William T. Sherman's Army on his "March to the Sea through Georgia" and his photographs preserved images of the destruction left in the army's wake; documenting the landscapes and ruins of Charleston, Fort Sumter, Atlanta, Savannah, and Columbia. The severity of the destruction wrought during Sherman's March would be difficult to imagine without Barnard's photograph; making his contributions to Civil War photography tremendous.

After the Civil War, Barnard moved to Charleston, S.C. and photographed the images of newly-freed slaves, particularly women, making their first attempts at entrepreneurial ventures and doing business in southern markets. In 1871, Barnard opened a new studio in Chicago, IL, and was one of many photographers to report on the Great Chicago Fire.

George Barnard moved back to Central New York and married his second wife, Emma Chapin Gilbert in 1881. He travelled extensively trying to capture the daily lives of everyday Americans in photographs. Barnard spent his last years in Cedarvale, N.Y., where he photographed local residents; remaining an active photographer until his death on February 4, 1902.

George N. Barnard played a pivotal role in the advancement of photography in the U.S. and remained on the cutting edge of new methods and practices in the field. His photographs highlight some of the most destructive and painful episodes in American history. Barnard also made significant contributions to local history with his work in Oswego and Central New York.

For more information about the exhibit or the fort, contact Paul Lear or Emily Markstein at 315-343-4711, visit www.fortontario.com, or find Fort Ontario on www.nysparks.com.


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