The Photobook Advent Calendar – Dec 13th

This year, in the true spirit of Christmas, we’re doing the Miniclick Photobook Advent Calendar where we’ll look at a different photobook, newspaper, magazine or ‘zine we like by someone we’ve worked with in the last 12 months, right up until Christmas Day. To view the Advent Calendar picks so far,click here.

Day 13 – December 13th

Jim Naughten – Re-enactors

Back in June we launched the second issue of our Publication, Publication#2. It was themed on portraiture and we tried to show a variety of work to show the length and breadth of the sub-genre. One of the photographers whose work we featured was Jim Naughten with his Re-enactors series. He came to town to give a talk on the work as well.

Evacuee_girl_in_Blue_coat

“Every summer thousands of people from all over the world gather in a field in Kent and leave the present firmly behind. They step out of their routine daily lives and transform into historical characters from the First and Second World War, often with such vigour and obsessive attention to detail that it’s hard to imagine them in contemporary settings.

Taking on a different name, identity and sometimes even a different tongue, the role players re-enact battles and drills from an imagined past. It is something more than acting, a collective fantasy played out on a massive scale.”

The book was published back in 2009. One of the things I like about Miniclick is that we have no remit to only show the very latest projects, or work that we have an exclusive on. We’d seen this body of work when it first came out (before Miniclick was founded in fact) and we’d been waiting for an opportunity to work with Jim.

For this body of work, Jim attended various re-enactment shows in the UK, where up to 20,000 people will attend in wartime uniforms, complete with weaponry and vehicles. You can instantly see what would have drawn Jim to photographing the people who attend and dressed up. That said, he was keen to stress that the work is “a study and not a documentary”. Jim isn’t passing judgement on the people, and like James O Jenkins work on United Kingdom (that we featured in yesterday’s Advent Calendar entry), all the subjects are photographed on a white background, with no context, allowing us to focus fully on their expressions, body language and incredible detail in their clothing and accessories.

It’s completely fascinating. All sorts of questions rattle through the mind and the lack of back story with each photo allows our imaginations to run wild. Captions simply tell us the country, rank and division and nothing of the person. It is, to be honest, a touch unsettling looking at the people who have chosen to dress as Nazis and especially the child dressed as Hitler Youth. Why would you do that? The genius in this work is that it doesn’t seek to tell us why, or even judge the motivations, it merely show us it happens.

Interspersed amongst the portraits are large dioramas of battle scenes and vehicles. The battle scenes are particularly interesting – made up of photos of ‘troops’ cut out and digitally placed on pre-shot backdrops. Although the manipulation here isn’t immediately obvious, it definitely adds to the sense of ‘play’ and reminds us it’s not a million miles from playing with toy soldiers. Back to the portraits, and the facial expressions in some of them are incredible – subjects appear exhausted, as though they had just been pulled off the front line that moment. They’re taking all this very seriously.

Two short essays appear at the front from Bill Kouwenhoven and Mark Rappolt. After that, the photos are afforded room to breath, which portraits appearing on their own on the pages, with a white border around them. The battle scenes have full bleed double page spreads (and look great for being printed larger). The simple, no frills design works well and allows us to concentrate on the details in the photos.

The hardback book (96 pages) is published by Hotshoe and costs £20 from here.

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