He brings a camera instead of a gun to Civil War reenactments - Off-Ramp for February 9, 2013

Civil War photos: Re-enactor uses old camera to re-create 'period' images (slideshow)

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Wearing a mourning outfit complete with veil, a woman pays tribute to fallen soldiers at a Veteran’s Day memorial in San Gabriel, California. Wet plate photograph.

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Two reenactors portray militia units at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Missouri, close to the actual battlefield. The units sided with the Confederacy during the first year of the Civil War.

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Confederate troops attempt to hold off Union soldiers breaching the trenches at the Battle of Spotsylvania in Virginia.

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Portraying President Abraham Lincoln is a special skill; not only should one look the part, but capture the man’s down-to-earth persona as well. Don Ancell, here at the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington, California, has been playing the part of Lincoln at reenactments and other events for more than 15 years. Wet plate photograph

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

Mark Elson/“Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors"

An Englishwoman, left, portrays a male Union soldier and fights alongside her husband during a reenactment in England.


" Wet plate collodion photography ... on metal and glass plates ... was the way photographs were made during the Civil War. To obtain the look, feel, and authenticity for my book, I learned the process, had equipment built, and found period lenses. I fell in love with this demanding and beautiful process, with its rich tones, great detail and timeless look." -- Mark Elson on  Battlefields of Honor

Many Civil War reenactors take on the persona of their relative who fought in the war. One woman, an HR worker in real life, helps people on the battlefield as a first aid worker; another woman portrays one of the hundred or so who hid their sex and fought alongside the men. A surprising (to Americans) number of Europeans put on their own reenactments.

(Mark Elson and his Civil War-era wet plate photography rig. Credit: Britain Nelms.)

And when Mark Elson, a photographer by trade, reenacts, he dresses in period costume and often shoots with the equipment of the time: big clunky wooden cameras that used 5x7 glass negatives and might take half an hour to make a single exposure.

The results are in a new book Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors. The book features 50 wet plate images, plus about 200 35mm shots of battles, behind the scenes looks, and some great before/after photos of the reenactors. Elson's reporter wife Jeannine Stein provides the text for the book.

Stein told me reenacting "really is a way for them to get away from the 21st Century. Get away from cell phones, get away from their jobs. And they truly immerse themselves to the point where it's kind of a rude awakening when they do have to go back home; they really do miss it."


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