Civil War Reenactors
During the very end of the Civil War Union and Confederate forces clashed in the little town of Newton, AL. To commemorate the battle a the community host a annual reenactment during the middle of October. This year I managed to make my way over to the Choctawhatchee River for the event. I arrived early before the battle and made my way around the exhibits. Introducing myself I asked the participants if I could take their portraits. One of the great things about the south is the hospitality, everyone was very receptive and more than willing to pose for a quick picture.
All of the people I met were very proud of the uniforms and their accuracy. Great attention was given to the details of the uniforms and where possible authentic pieces were used to complete the look. The desire for authentic look carried over into the making. For example if the uniforms needed to be dyed to the right color they used the same techniques used in the periods such as boiling in tea or dye’s made with grapes. The reenactors themselves were made up of family and friends, some of them had been involved in the reenactments since their childhood. They arranged themselves by military units just the way the military would have done. One group I spoke to travel to multiple reenactments across the south every year where the largest they attend is in Jacksonville, FL. Most of the people I spoke to could tell me about their ancestors who had fought in the war including the regiment and battles they were in. Everyone of them shared a great knowledge of the Civil War period, not only the battles but how people lived and worked in that period. This wasn’t just dressing up for them but it was a chance to share knowledge about a part of American history. It was far more interesting talking to them than sitting in history class.
One of the interesting things that I did learn is that soldiers would go and pay for a portrait to be made prior to a major battle. They would then pin their name and where to send their bodies and belongings inside their uniform should they be killed. Photography was still very new and they had to sit for very long periods of time in order for the plate to record a single image. At the time they believed that if you stared into the camera for that long it could capture your soul. So they would sit three quarters or profile for their pictures. In keeping with that feel of the period I asked the actors to look off away from the camera. I lit the images with a single speedlight with a small 12″ diffusion panel on it which my son hand carried holding the light to the right of the camera. This gave a harsh light which helped bring out the texture in the clothing. I later accented this in post using a process I call Vivid Detail that really brings out the texture in an image and adding a little more warm colors to the tone of the images.
I had an appointment for that afternoon so I wasn’t able to stay for the battle reenactment but I did get to watch them pack black powder for one of the cannons. When they said that static electric charge could set the powder off I decided to not take any pictures with a flash and remote (just in case). The even itself lasted for two days with a Civil War wedding, church service, reenactment of a field surgery of that time, music and of course the Battle of Newton. Events such as these are small town’s claim to fame their way of showing their role in the greater part of our nation’s history. This would be a great way to spend the day with family so if your ever near one of these events be sure to take some time to visit, you will be glad you did.