Artist Statment on War and Re-Staged Image

For the last four years, I have been photographing the subculture of war reenactments and the veterans who attend them in the United States. These rich celebratory and recreational displays are period piece events that symbolize an idealized past of virtue and simplicity. 

 

Allowing participants and spectators to partake in contrasting ways, the reenactors play out fantasies of grandeur and heroism (regardless of which side they’re reenacting) while the actual veterans of war conflicts use them to cathartically relive and relieve their personal war traumas within the context of war in the safety of a civilian event. 

 

In my earlier stages of this work, I was focused on how Americans memorialize and commemorate war. My artwork concentrated on the act of myth making and the creation of revised histories through colloquial tales of heroism and grandeur. Now, I am captivated by not only the pageantry, but also by how the language of photography is at the core of these reenactments. 

 

All the war reenactments I have witnessed derive their claims to authenticity and authority from a rich set of visual markers. The participants go to great lengths to wear authentic uniforms and use historically correct weaponry. The maneuvers reenacted are closely modeled after the original events, and, most importantly, the reenactors’ source material and reference points are frequently iconic photographs, making photography a participatory member of these events. 

 

Participants prepare by trading, exchanging and studying the images of canonical photographers such as Robert Capa, Eugene Smith, Margaret Bourke-White, Larry Burrows etc. Needless to say, such multi-layered visual content makes for fascinating and compelling photographic subject matter. It also raises important questions about our culture’s relationship to photography, visual memory, and how contemporary and historical uses of photography and image manipulation shape our histories. 

 

Paying close attention to the compositional and visual tropes used in war photography, I photograph these reenactments, hyper aware of the lens optics and framing originally implemented during battles of each time period. My own compositions work along a continuum between the familiar and the uncanny.

 

-Rose DeSiano