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MEMBER BLOG - Through My Lens: Reenacting & Photography

By PFC. McDowell

Member Blog: Articles created by the members of SoCal WACs.

Hello! My name is Molly -- you might know me better by my handle –and  I have the pleasure of jump starting this blog. Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll have met me, learned about relationship with re-enacting and SoCal WAC’s, understand my perspective as a photographer.

A  little about me, I am currently an underclassman studying Communication at Vanguard University of Southern California. I joined SoCal WAC’s in July of 2018 after touring a hidden radio room in the halls of Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. I am fascinated by the power communication has in our world. By studying communication throughout history, I appreciate how a simple change of tone, body language, or a few seconds can drastically alter a message’s meaning or influence. Moreover, through photography, I seek to encourage others by sending accurate, meaningful and honest messages of people or situations. Take off the façade and humbly share your heart!

When I photograph with re-enactors, there’s a few things I try to keep in mind. First, the golden rule of re-enacting is “Thou Shalt Not Be FARB.” There are several definitions for this acronym – some more colorful than others – but they all refer to the items, phrases, or materials that would not have been seen during that period (examples are things like plastic water bottles, cell phones or modern automobiles). This means the photographer must A. know their basic cultural history and B. be extremely observant of their atmosphere before taking a photo. Sometimes this creates an interestingly angled photo: the right is from our first Training Day and the left was taken at the Chino Airshow. Frankly, these photos do not accurately represent 1940’s photography… but they are artsy. #winsomeyoulosesome

Secondly, I determine whether the conditions are best to use with my original Argus (I have to admit that technically it is dated around 1946 but it’s close enough). This camera is a completely manual film camera about the size and weight of an average brick – which is where it gets its nickname. Using and learning to use this camera is time consuming, but the results are often astoundingly accurate. During World War Two, the power of a photograph was just beginning to be developed and noticed. So, the fact that almost anyone could pull out their own camera and relatively quickly capture an instant of their life – especially during the war – was astounding. As a reenactor, I care deeply about bringing history to life. Creating images the “old fashioned way” invites the photographer to put themselves in the shoes of a soldier potentially undercover, cuddled in a foxhole, or desperately trying to share a little of their new life with their family.

Sometimes it’s not ideal to use the Argus.Though it would produce an accurate portrayal of the scene, if for instance we’re photographing someone running in a battle or a zooming jet plane, the Argus is not the camera for that. At some events, it’s just too dusty to safely adjust the settings without worrying whether they can be cleaned or not. These are just some of the cases when the limited manual settings merit using a modern camera. However, when I do use my modern camera, I try my best to edit them how I normally would (in color) and a film-like b&w rendition (because as most people know, putting a filter on does not necessarily transform the photo into a specific time period).  I’m still learning the best ways to do so, but the more I practice the better it gets.

Lastly, one of the most important aspects I keep in mind when photographing my fellow re-enactors cultural accuracy. As you probably know, a trendy photo of a person posing could make for wonderful and unique art, but it doesn’t mean that it communicates an accurate display of the culture around them; re-enacting is no exception. When I began re-enacting photography, I primarily wanted to prove that I was capable of producing photos that people actually liked. Once I did that – it took about six months – I began to prioritize period correct posing, context and character in my photos. Here’s a quick timeline:

All in all, I value re-enacting so much because I believe that people were meant to be free. America stepped into the second World War for a variety of reasons, but one was to wipe out the dehumanization going on in the several theaters. The fight for humanization is key. And some people were willing to – and did – risk their lives to fight for it. We as humans came together to celebrate the value of sacrifice and labor. My goal for everything is to respect the past and encourage for the future.

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