September 24, 2013
The discovery of Abraham Lincoln in a rare photo at the scene of the Gettysburg Address has put Christopher Oakley, UNC Asheville assistant professor of new media in the national spotlight as the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s famed oratory approaches. Smithsonian magazine and USA TODAY both featured Oakley in articles published today.
Smithsonian asserts that Oakley’s discovery “looks to be the most significant, if not the most provocative Lincoln photographic find of the last 60 years.” Controversy exists because just six years ago, USA TODAY, on its front page, featured claims that a different man in the same photo is Lincoln. Oakley, an animation professional and self-described Lincoln nut, used a combination of historical records, other photos and portraits, high-tech new media tools and software, computer science and physics to convince many leading Civil War photography scholars that his man is Lincoln.
Oakley’s discovery grew out of the “Virtual Lincoln Project,” a multi-year effort he has led with UNC Asheville new media students to produce a lifelike 3-D re-creation of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address. Efforts to correctly portray every detail of the cemetery setting and crowd of dignitaries led to close examination of the rare 1863 photos – only six taken at the cemetery that day are known to exist.
It was his intimacy with Lincoln’s facial features that led Oakley to spot his bearded profile – quite fuzzy even when magnified many times – in one of the photos of the scene taken from a distance by Alexander Gardner. “I was looking at Seward [Lincoln’s Secretary of State] in the picture and I was not looking for Lincoln at all,” said Oakley. “As an animator, I’m trained to look at and study movement. And in the first of Alexander Gardner’s photos, I could see Seward from the side and I knew who was around him. And in the second Gardner photo, someone new had entered. My eye drifted to him, and it hit me. I jumped up saying ‘No way – it can’t be!’ I’ve been staring at Lincoln’s face for decades, and that night, he looked back.”
Oakley says, “The next piece is to go back to the cemetery and go old school – to take everything we’ve learned with our new media technology, our science, and go test it with props and sets, the camera equipment of the time and see if we can recreate that moment and those photos,” he said. “That will tell us if we’re right or wrong.”
For more information about Oakley and the Virtual Lincoln Project, visit https://www.unca.edu/features/finding-real-lincoln
Smithsonian magazine’s “Will the Real Abraham Lincoln Please Stand Up?” can be found online at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Will-the-Real-Abraham-Lincoln-Please-Stand-Up-224911272.html#the-new-lincoln-photo-1.jpg
USA TODAY’s article can be found online at http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/24/abraham-lincoln-gettysburg-address-smithsonian-photograph/2854811/