Thursday, December 29, 2022

Mr. Lincoln Sits for his Portrait

Marcus, Leonard. Mr. Lincoln Sits for his Portrait
January 3, 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr) 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the same way that John F. Kennedy was the first president to harness the power of television to further his political aims (brilliantly depicted in Sandler's 2011 Kennedy Through the Lens), Lincoln was the first politician to fully utilize the power of the relatively new medium of still photography. At a time when most people would have one or two images of themselves, Lincoln had hundreds done, by prominent artists of the time, like Matthew Brady, Anthony Berger, and Francis Bicknell Carpenter. 

Marcus introduces us to Lincoln's career, humor, and self deprecating views of his own attractiveness, or lack thereof, and uses this information to scaffold Lincoln's rise to power. Since there are innumerable treatments of Lincoln, this is a new and innovative way to deliver this information. Of course, the inclusion of photographs not only of Lincoln but of his world make this worth purchasing. 

Interspersed between discussions of what was going on in Lincoln's life, the evolution of photography, and the state of the world in general are helpful timelines that recap things nicely. I found the overview of photgraphic history particulary interesting; it almost makes me want to find a book about the history of photography as it relates to how people curate their own history. If you have enough family photos going back into the late 1890s, you can pretty much tell exactly when a member of your family first obtained a camera and didn't have to rely on a local photographer!

There are many aspects of Lincoln's life covered, from political to family, and the struggles of Mary Lincoln are briefly mentioned. There is a lot of coverage of the cover portrait, which was hugely influential at the time, and reproduced in myriad ways after Lincoln's death to engender pathos and to paint him as a pious family man. I must say that I wouldn't have identified this particular picture as the most pivotal, but Marcus does a good job of making this point. I love that it is often passed off as a Bible or religious text when in fact the actual book was a photographer's catalog. 

Marcus is an excellent scholar of children's literature; in an ideal world, I would have been able to have a similar career, so I am rather jealous of his work! His Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became An American Icon Along the Way (2007) is nothing short of genius. It's interesting to see him change gears, and he clearly has some affection for his topic. This is a great title to have for National History Day research or for an updated look at Lincoln's life. 

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