PetaPixel

Civil War Reenactments Photographed with a Wet Plate Camera

At first glance, New York-based photographer Richard Barnes‘ Civil War photos might look like they were taken from some museum or historical photographic archive. Look a little closer, however, and you’ll begin to notice things that are quite peculiar. In one of them, there’s a pickup truck parked in the background. In another, a man wears a T-shirt and baseball cap — certainly not the fashion you’d expect to see in a mid-1800s photo.

The truth is, Barnes creates beautiful war photos that appear to be from over a century ago by using the Civil War-era process of wet plate photography to capture modern day Civil War battle reenactments.

His project is interesting because of the historical significance of Civil War photos. They were the first photos to show dead soldiers of a war prior to burial, and many of the images we have were created by two pioneers of photojournalism and combat photography: Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner. In a statement on the project that he shared with us, Barnes writes,

My particular interest in photographing reenactments is not to cover them as a contemporary photojournalist might, with a digital camera and a motor drive, but rather to put myself in the shoes of Alexander Gardner and attempt to make images that have the look and feel of what it would have been like to actually be in the field at the time of battle. To achieve this, I am using a large format camera and the same wet plate process employed by Matthew Brady and his associates.

Ultimately I seek to go beyond the nostalgia of recreating the look of images from another era, but rather my aim is to explore a creative tension that addresses the artifice of the reenactment in juxtaposition to the evidence of contemporary life, occurring within and at the periphery of the photographic frame.

An interesting thing to note about Barnes’ work is that the out-of-time elements seen in them aren’t accidental. He tells NBC’s Photoblog that his goal isn’t historical accuracy, but art:

You might see a car in the background of my photographs because I am not interested in replicating the past. I’m not interested in nostalgia. I’m approaching this from an artistic point of view. I’m interested in what I refer to as the ‘slippage of time.’

You can see more these photographs over on his website.


Image credits: Photographs by Richard Barnes and used with permission


 
  • Samcornwell

    With the greatest respect to a man attempting wet plate photography, looking at these examples he is not very good at all at the collodion pour. He’ll get much better with practise.

  • Valentino

    . . . that and the fact that last time I checked, there were no minivans or 4x4s in the 1860s. I mean, if you are going to take the time, then take the damn cars out of the picture.

  • MD

    …From the article:

    “Ultimately I seek to go beyond the nostalgia of recreating the look of
    images from another era, but rather my aim is to explore a creative
    tension that addresses the artifice of the reenactment in juxtaposition
    to the evidence of contemporary life, occurring within and at the
    periphery of the photographic frame.”

    It’s not my taste, but at least it was on purpose. I know, reading is annoying when there are pictures to look at instead, but sometimes it helps things along.

  • 11

    somehow my brain was wired to associated such vintage look to old-time — which was kind of nice.
    Now with projects like above, it just counters that mental association. Same with instagram filters…

    and yes, a not so good wet plate work..

  • Ulysses

    Likewise, good sir, you can get better at spelling with practice!

  • Hasse Schougaard

    ‘Practise’ as used by Sam above is correct spelling in most English speaking countries.

  • AntonyShepherd

    I quite like these. It would have been pretty easy given the medium to choose your subject and framing to give that ‘old time’ look. But that wouldn’t have been as interesting. It’s the dissonance that makes the shots work for me.

  • Tw

    I love that those things are in the background, it does make the photos more intriguing to imagine the time period, and document people in life as we know it now on that same medium. It causes me to ponder how people and objects may have really make have looked as opposed to what the photograph captured on that day, and to think of life in the reality of what they experienced through their own eyes. The resulting photographs of that period only show a dim reflection of the actual reality, and I think seeing modern day things on the same reflection causes us to think deeper of the reality which was the subject off that reflection and connects us in a deeper way with the past. Really love your work! Awesome stuff!

  • James

    Maybe you should take the time to read the article before you post a stupid comment. I like these, including the messy pour. Gives a more authentic look. And yes, the cars etc are what make them ‘art’.

  • Samcornwell

    I’m English. You know, the place that invented the language. ‘Practise’ is how we spell it here. Anyway, that has nothing to do with the poor pouring of these plates.

    Now, jog on, will ya’?

  • Anthony

    He should just put a Delorean in the background

  • http://twitter.com/intensitystudio Antonio Carrasco

    “I am not interested in nostalgia.”
    Shoots with wet plate camera

  • sierrarobba

    Dear Photog who made this ghastly rubbis.Please write a note under these pictures!
    Something like this:”This is way under the actual wetplate quality.This my clumsiness,because…….”

    thanks