The yearly Arizona Civil War reenactment at Picacho Peak offered an interesting opportunity to try to recreate the specific look of that time. The Civil War wasn’t the first war to be photographed- that was the Crimean War- but it was the first war Americans ever saw images from. In particular the work of Matthew Brady’s company of photographers is so iconic it’s the first thing people think of when the Civil War is brought up as a topic of conversation.
I went with my 4×5 Graphlex Field Camera and 14 sheets of film. I also took my son Patrick, who opened up one of the film holders before I got any shots at all. In February, I was at another Civil War event at Pioneer Village north of Phoenix, and the attendance there was low enough that I figured I’d have the actors and location pretty open to shoot in. Not so. There were thousands of people at the Picacho Peak event, and anyone who has ever tried to get authentic period shots when you have so many other people milling about knows that it ain’t easy.
Quite a few of these spectators were photographers themselves, from DSLRs to medium format to an interesting DIY combo of “Frankensteined” vintage lenses on a mirrorless Sony camera. The 4×5 was slower than usual due to issues in keeping my son calm and happy, but it worked out in several ways:
- Forcing me to plan out shots, rather than “spray shooting” and hoping to sort them out later
- Forcing me to shoot in a framing style similar to the real Civil War photos
- Getting me a lot of attention from actors, kids, other photographers. Nothing like a weird camera to help introverts like myself talk to people.
We arrived back at our house in Chandler around 4 pm, developed the film by 6 pm, scanned the 11 good images by the next day, and I finished them off using a combination of texture overlays, Nik software’s Tone Mapping in HDR Pro and Silver EFX Pro, and Adobe Lightroom.