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Mathew Brady picture of failure?

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Much of what we know about the American Civil War comes from the photographs of Mathew Brady, who together with his employees took thousands of photos of Union and Confederate soldiers alive and dead.

Brady is credited with inventing photojournalism, once coming so close to the action in the First Battle of Bull Run that he was almost captured by Confederate troops. 

His photographs of President Abraham Lincoln and Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, among many others, live on in Ken Burns’ television series “The Civil War.”

Yet, Brady died almost penniless.

Why? He invested heavily in his notion that the U.S. government would buy his Civil War photos, sinking more than $100,000 into the venture. When the government declined, he sank further into debt, began drinking heavily and died a poor man.

The lesson: Breakthrough performance doesn’t always lead to success. Get it in writing.

— Adapted from Mathew Brady and the Image of History, Mary Panzer, Smithsonian Books.

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