July 10, 2012

Photography and Reenactments

Photography at reenactments has been a hot topic. Is it really right for reenactors to take photos? In our age everyone wants a photo of what they are doing to share with their friends online. 

The minute I can't take photos at reenactments is the minute I pack up and pursue my copious other hobbies. Yes, that's harsh. Hardcores will say sayorara quicker than they can pull a Boxbury Russet out of their haversacks and farbs will be left wondering what the big deal is.

I fully understand the "If they didn't have it, don't use it mentality." I agree to it on almost all accounts. This is one where I feel as 21st century people we deserve to have a little 21st century luxury. Many people feel that reenactors taking photographs are one of the most irksome things in reenacting because it ruins the setting we've created. I agree, but I also think it's a necessary evil. Photos from an event not only document our fun times but also get people interested in what we do.

Most people will argue that you can just get photos from friends or have spectators email you copies. This is fine if you just want to show them to your friends. It is not fine if I want to post them online and it is not fine for people who will be using them for webpages, advertising, and publications. Which is what almost every person does these days.

There's no good solution. If you don't like cameras in camp, the best thing to do is set an example and not bring one yourself. Try doing things the period way: sketch a picture or write a very descriptive letter to your friends and family at home.   If getting some photos truly affects how much you can enjoy a reenactment, by all means, take a few shots.       

Tips for Reenactors:

-Try to take photos at off hours when you know spectators will not be in camp (early in the morning or at night.) This is the hardest for me because if I make a particularly awesome lunch I always want to snap a photo. Which brings me to the next tip.

-Always look around. If you are alone snap a photo quickly and put the camera back in your tent. 

- Settle with a few photos and don't be upset when you don't get those action battle shots. I think you can capture a day in 5 shots or less. Save the rest for after hours. If you feel that you absolutely want battle shots, consider dressing like a spectator for an hour or two. 

-Try to use the smallest, unobtrusive camera as possible. Bring the dslr out at night. Take your photo and be done with it. Don't keep it out and don't play with it. Don't show your photos to other until night or when you get home.

-Some people experiment with hidden cameras. This may get easier as cameras get smaller. Izzy at Confessions of a Reenactor has a nice set-up but it involves some acting as modern cameras don't require immediate post processing.

Reenacting photos are really my favorites. If I couldn't take them reenactments really wouldn't be much fun for me. I love sharing my weekends and photos really help. I know my view on this is an unpopular one but I really think having photos adds to the hobby. It's also a way to see how the hobby changes. Remember those farb photos from the 70s and 80s? I'd also prefer this stuff documented by us, not people who don't know what they are photographing or people from that new school of "journalism" who like to take part in events, Halloween costumes and all.

I do have to thank National Geographic for those lovely photos of reenactors standing next to portable toilets and in parking lots. I'm glad the general public "knows" what reenacting is about now.


  1. I think as a whole people need to remember that we're presenting a living picture of history for people to come and learn. I know that there are many different types of people that come to help present this picture.

    Some events require that all reenactors stay in their 19th century attire for the entire event. Others are more relaxed. Personally, I'm of the opinion that after the camps are closed and spectators are gone, reenactors should be able to enjoy their evenings however they like.

    If you want to continue living in the 19th century, you should be able to do so. If you want to grab your copy of Harry Potter, you should be able to do so too. If you want to take pictures with your fancy camera, you should be able to do that. Without spectators, we have nothing to present.

    I do agree that cameras should remain hidden during hours that the camps are open. If you can grab a few shots without people noticing, that's great, but I don't think people should flaunt modern items in front of spectators.

    More people need to remember that we are not 19th century people. We are merely portraying them for others.

  2. Another fine post!
    As you well know, I take many, many photos at reenactments. My camera is not overly big and fits in side my carpet bag perfectly. And that's another idea: do not carry the camera around your neck at events - have it in your carpetbag, pull it out to take a picture, then slip it back in. It works quite well for me. And most don't notice it.
    Now, I do enjoy taking posed pictures - scenes and the like - almost all are without the public around.
    I feel it's up to the living historian's discretion on when and where to take pictures. There have been some events that I have attended that absolutely forbid cameras while most tend to overlook then for your reasons stated. I follow whatever rules are placed down.
    To me, more important than hiding cameras is hiding water bottles, which reenactors tend to carry out in the open far more than cameras.
    Thanks again for a thought-provoking post.

  3. Love, love the watercolor of the tents. And I always appreciate your point of view. Your many talents never cease to amaze me. You're a gem.

  4. I agree with you, wholeheartedly!


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