Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thoughts About Modern Digital Cameras at a Reenactment + Photographs From the Historic Fort Wayne Event

One of my favorite bloggers, Stephanie Ann from World Turned Upside Down, posted another thoughtful piece on reenacting called Photography and Reenactments.
This one hit home for me because, as you know, I love - absolutely love - taking pictures at reenactments. Not only does it document the event, but it is great fun to share photos with others via blogger, Facebook, or flicker.
As Stephanie Ann wrote: "I fully understand the "If they didn't have it, don't use it" mentality. I agree to it on almost all accounts."
As do I.
On almost all accounts.
For me, taking photographs at reenactments is kind of like an extension of the event itself, and many of my living history friends feel the same way. Some have told me they don't feel like the event is complete until they see my photos posted, especially on Facebook.
It makes me feel good knowing that so many feel that way about my pictures. But I do understand concerns about seeing such a device as a modern digital camera while at a reenactment, especially with patrons around. Even more important, at an immersion event. I so try to be inconspicuous with my camera for the most part, and will try not to pull it out in front of visitors unless there is an angle I am attempting to capture.
However, there are times when it almost doesn't matter. Almost. For instance, at a battle reenactment. First off, most of us in the civilian contingencies are usually sitting amidst hundreds (or more) of very modern patrons in their lawn chairs. It's kind of hard to chastise a period-dressed reenactor for taking a few photographs in this situation, wouldn't you say? But like I said, as long as the camera is quickly hidden and not left it in plain view where the public can see it. I still believe that as living historians that we should do our best to stay in time-travel mode as long as we are in our period attire no matter where we are.
"But," you may say, "there are the times when one is surrounded by all things historically accurate; out comes the camera and there goes all sense of authenticity."
Yeah, at times, it does...and that's where one needs to understand that, though this may be a really 'cool' event, such as during an immersion event, the camera may have to be put at bay.
Or does it?
I have many opportunities to reenact inside period homes, and unless we are doing a full immersion experience, I will set up photographic scenarios as a sort of souvenir to that particular 'moment in time.' And once a 21st century visitor enters the home, the camera is stuffed away in my always nearby carpetbag and no one is the wiser. In fact, I have had quite a few non-reenacting friends  mention that they never even seen me take pictures at events.
Yet, I will admit that I have pulled out my camera at times when maybe I shouldn't have, like when striving for full immersion. I suppose it's just me getting over zealous and excited about the situation at hand. As a historian, that happens quite often.
I suppose it's up to all participating.
Interestingly for me is the way my reenacting/living historian friends feel about modern photography at events; by far the greater majority are extremely happy that I am out there recording for posterity our "time-travel" experiences. I haven't met any who adamantly stated that they disliked it, though one or two have asked if I could abstain during certain times. I've tried to tone it down a bit when I feel it can take away from an experience...but, boy! it sure is difficult sometimes!
I have seen other reenactors carrying (or wearing) their cameras around their necks via a long strap. This I am vehemently against; to not even make an attempt to hide your farbiness  goes against all of what we are trying to do. If this is the case then why cover your cooler?
As I said, unless it's a posed picture, I do my best to sneak my camera out of the carpetbag, snap the photo, then slip it back in.
No muss - no fuss.
I'm sure that, for the most part it's a personal issue. As I alluded to a few moments ago, if I am at a full immersion event I will try and refrain from taking pictures accept at an appointed time. One of my good friends and I had discussed this earlier this year.
But as long as I can sneak my camera in and out of its hiding spot without it being seen, I see no problem in documenting our travels to the past.

That being said, I hope you enjoy the pictures included here of our latest event that took place at Historic Fort Wayne in downtown Detroit.

Here are the men of the Union standing in front of the barracks at Historic Fort Wayne. The fort was built in 1842 and has housed American soldiers from the Civil War through Vietnam
For the 2012 reenactment, the battle was the Battle of Malvern Hill, also known as the Battle of Poindexter's Farm, which took place on July 1, 1862, in Virginia.
 I don't have many photos of the battle reenactment due to the way the battle was presented - the above picture is all I could snap - but I do have plenty of the civilians!

Here is Michigan's own Senator Jacob Howard, portrayed by Dave Tennies. As a Senator, Howard is credited with working closely with President Abraham Lincoln in drafting and passing the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.
The dressmaker's shop was a busy place indeed!
As Postmaster of Detroit, I certainly had a fine home with many visitors. I also showed my alliance to the Federal army.
As stated in the above article about photography, here are some posed pictures that evoke a time long past, including me in the above setting working on important papers. (No visitors were around when these photos were taken - they turned out pretty well, don't you think?)
Mrs. Paladino reaches for (but doesn't actually touch) ladies toiletries
The house that I called my own at the Fort Wayne reenactment actually originally belonged to the Commander, but we modified it slightly to have it become my home circa 1862. The following photographs were all taken in "my" front parlor:
Miss Mrozek
Mrs. Schroeder and her two youngest
Miss Konrad and Mrs. Cutcher
Mrs. St. John

Mrs. Paladino

Miss Malynowskyj

We are in full swing of our reenacting season. There are at least four more major events (not counting the Nationals, which we cannot do at this time) and a couple of smaller events planned over the next three months, so check back for more photos.
For those of you who do living history I am interested in your thoughts on the whole modern cameras at reenactments situation.



Sarah Jane said...

I really enjoyed this post. I have often felt really guilty for taking pictures with a modern digital camera at events. It's nice to know I am not the only one who feels an event is not really documented or complete without pictures of it. Great article.

Robin's Egg Bleu said...

I have recently begun toting two darlings along with me for some of our summer Old Town events. We're all done up as proper as can be in period garb, in fact far and away the most accurate in the state park, and if they weren't little girls I probably wouldn't feel the need to document our time there.

But as they're only 3 and 6, and their parents aren't present and will want to see what the girls did too, I covertly as possible slip their camera out of my basket and snap a few shots. Only problem is it's their parents camera along for the ride and I don't feel comfortable dragging two cameras out so I have to wait to see the photos until their parents get around to sending them to me. But at least I was there for the real deal.

There's so many 'farbaholics' in Old Town San Diego that I don't really mind destroying the illusion for a moment or two. We're still the best thing down there in terms of our presentation.

We don't participate in any sort of organized living history event there, we just show up as 'guests' in period appropriate attire, as though townspersons who showed up for a fiesta.

I bring all our food, with period water bottle, transferware plates, cups and cloth napkins in an antique basket. Our food is wrapped in brown paper and string, and I use my paisley shawl as a tablecloth and we set up on one of the big old wooden picnic tables on the plaza.

We get lots of attention from tourists and the official living history volunteers as well. They may not be pulling a camera out every once in awhile but they put so little attention into their impression that I think we still outshine them, camera and all.

Cheap SLR Digital Cameras said...

Capturing a precious event is one of the best things that you can do with your Cheap Digital SLR Camera. Reenactments are really great to be seen in photographs. It is like capturing a part of the history.

Erin Mc said...

This weekend I was at a French and Indian War event, and I saw a woman in period dress taking a photo with a tablet. I instantly thought of this post. While I haven't come to a conclusion about cameras, my friend and I came up with a quick solution for tablets! (and I'm half joking about this.) We are going to design a case for the tablet that makes it appear to be a period Bible. :)