With Donald Trump closing in on 1 million Instagram followers (both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are not too far behind) and The Washington Post dubbing this year’s presidential race “the first Instagram election,” it’s getting more and more difficult to think back to a time when photography didn’t hold tremendous power in politics.
Some 200 years ago (before photography even resembling that which we know today was invented), none of this was an issue. But by the mid-19th century, with photography still a novelty for most Americans, Abraham Lincoln swept in and took advantage of the nascent form.
According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, “Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to use photography for political purposes.” Taking it one step further, Lincoln himself famously said, in reference to photographer Matthew Brady, who shot the candidate many times, “Make no mistake. Brady made me President!”
However, it wasn’t Brady, but instead Alexander Gardner who took what may be some of the most well-known and important photographs of Lincoln. Gardner photographed Lincoln seven times in total, including a sitting in February 1865, the last one before Lincoln’s death. (It was a photo from this sitting that photo editor Dana R. Keller colorized — above — and brought back to life in 2013 for her History in Color project.)
After the 1865 sitting, Gardner then photographed Lincoln’s funeral and was the only photographer allowed to document the execution by hanging of the conspirators involved in Lincoln’s assassination.
That final sitting in February 1865 produced some of the most enduring images of perhaps our most iconic president, and helped solidify the power of the photo in politics, a power that reigns supreme to this day. See the original image below and the colorized version above.
For more, check out these incredible Abraham Lincoln photos that explain the life of one of our most revered presidents. Then, find out whether or not Abraham Lincoln was our first gay president, and meet an 11th generation Lincoln alive today. Next, have a look at 34 more brilliantly colorized photos from history.