A primary source is defined as any source of information about an event in history, documented by a person that was close to the even, lived during the time era, experienced it for themselves etc. A secondary source would be defined as a scholarly article or book that bases its knowledge on a primary source, making comments or opinions. These two sources of information are seemingly very simple, one is from the time era and an eye witness account; the other is a commentary of that account but made in the present day. But what defines these two sources of information is their: reliability and authenticity. This focus relies heavily on the primary source because of its responsibility of re-telling an account accurately, which will then be written about by the historian many years later.However, how can be a primary source be disputed over? Wouldn’t it be obvious that the primary source would be undoubtedly authentic and reliable? Not according to the audiences of the work of Alexander Gardner.
Alexander Gardner was a famous photographer during the Civil War era, his photographs radicalized and shocked audiences who viewed his photographs. He photographed corpses sprawled all across battlefields, landmarks, and presented narratives of his own creation that represented what the Civil War was truly like. It was later revealed that Gardner often posed and moved bodies around the various locations in order to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing picture. This caused many audiences to question the authenticity of his collection; Gardner was not showing the true nature of the Civil War at all, he was selling a radical point of view. In the article titled “Imaging the Civil War: Authenticity in Painting, Photography, and The Red Badge of Courage” the author argues that “does not aim to transform scenes of war into sacred memories” and thus has the creative license to not be authentic, but to sell an idea or concept (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/crane/images/section3.html). And despite the controversy that encompasses his photographs, they are still considered primary sources. Gardner’s pictures were deliberately taken to illustrate a particular effect on the audience, not form memories or make a mark in history as an accurate account.
Primary sources are often seen as undisputed accounts of the truth from the past. But Alexander Gardner is a prime example of how the truth and authenticity of, specifically photographs, can be deceiving.