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Echoes of the Civil War: The Civil War Pinhole Project
by Michael Falco
In 2011 Michael Falco began documenting the historic sites and recreated events of the American Civil War. Using a pinhole camera, Falco has followed in the steps of contemporary reenactors who keep the memory of this turning point in American history alive. As he writes:
“The impressions of these reenactors—so many descended from the very soldiers whose uniforms they wear—brought a dimension of verisimilitude and narrative drive to the project and, through the poetic prism of the pinhole, emerged not as play acting or costume drama, but as ghostly evocations of the spirits that hang over these fields.
“The images were created with large-format pinhole cameras— handmade wooden boxes with no lens, no viewfinder, and no shutter—that would have seemed primitive even at the time of the Civil War, but that, in uncanny ways, seems the perfect device for this project.
“The camera’s tiny, fixed aperture creates a soft, infinite focal plane—a canvas where details are obscured. The minuscule amount of light entering the camera requires a long exposure time that pushes the images into the ambiguous terrain between landscape and dreamscape. Wind blows, leaves rustle, clouds move, the earth turns.
“The pinhole camera lingers on these battlefields slowly drawing in the light. The images breathe with space and time.”
Echoes of the Civil War comprises forty images from Falco’s six-year journey across the historic fields of battle described by historian Shelby Foote as a moment in American history that, even more than the American Revolution, defined and continues to define our country today.
The Civil War Pinhole Project was exhibited at the Staten Island Museum in New York, in 2015. It has been recognized by the Library of Congress and is now part of the permanent collection of the National Archive on the Civil War Sesquicentennial.
Countryman Press, a division of W. W. Norton, will publish Echoes of the Civil War, a monograph on The Civil War Pinhole Project in the autumn of 2016.
Michael Falco, Echoes of the Civil War
“It’s been an arduous and exhilarating trek across landscapes that remain, preserved by the virtue of their terrible history, very much as they were 150 years ago - oasis now from modernity, pristine and scarred as the great war left them, hallowed and haunting. The past is present on these battlefields.” - Michael Falco 2015
In 2011 photographer Michael Falco began a four-year battlefield to battlefield pinhole camera journey along the anniversary tracks of the American Civil War. The resulting images connect notions of time, place, war and depicted the most elaborate generational “performance art” in the United States - perhaps anywhere.
What began as a strictly landscape photography project evolved once Falco met and photographed dedicated re-enactors - many who marched in their great, great grandfathers footsteps, both Union and Confederate. Seeing the war from the “soldiers’ perspective” was entirely new. Soon Falco was compelled to don period garb in the guise of a 19th century photographer. Now able to reach images a sideliner could not, he combined the photographs of the war’s battlefields with the images of the sesquicentennial reenactments happening around the country, adding a contemporary narrative drive to the project.
Falco’s battlefield meditations are a sweeping commemoration of a war that is still visible today. Loss of life and destruction during the war has marked these landscapes. The blood spilled into the grass, knolls, and creeks set these battlefields apart as hallowed ground.
Although there were over 10,000 skirmishes and battles throughout the war, Falco chose to focus on twenty of the largest engagements. In this exhibition seven of those battles are featured: Manassas, Atlanta Campaign, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Overland Campaign, Petersburg and the Shenandoah Valley.