State of the Union
When I was a kid, I’d spend whole days arranging toy soldiers and then narrate the battle to whatever audience I could find. Photographing Civil War re-enactors was a grown up version of this childhood game. The seeds for State of the Union took root while I read Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, an exploration of the South’s abiding fixation with the Civil War.
Yet, much of Civil War history —specifically its battle sites—have been overrun by freeway expansion, housing developments, shopping malls and all the other hastily erected constructs of consumer culture. State of the Union juxtaposes an idealized Civil War embodied by period re-enactors with the base commercialism of contemporary life. The portraits in this series were taken on the actual sites of battles in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky. In these pictures, the ghosts of Confederate and Union soldiers have come back to the places they once inhabited so fiercely, challenging us to reflect on our past and how we arrived here, on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
Photography portrays conflicting truths. The re-enactor hunkered down in a snow bank is vividly true to the past, yet his battlefield is a parking lot. This simultaneity of past and present, of having and not having, makes the photograph the ideal expression of nostalgia.