October 28, 2020

Playing at war: the photography of war recreations | Babelia


The history of war is the history of humanity. It has existed since the beginning of time and since then humans seem to have toyed with the idea of ​​recreating it. For three years, Brandon Tauszik, a 34-year-old American photographer and filmmaker, witnessed, almost weekly, the smoke from muskets blur the landscape of the California fields. Many kilometers away from the real scenes where the battles between unionists and confederates took place, hundreds of participants strive to stage the different moments of those who fought in the Civil War, 150 years later and dressed in their clothes.


Image from the book 'Pale Blue Dress'.enlarge photo
Image from the book ‘Pale Blue Dress’.

Pale Blue Dress It has been the result of this expertise, a delicate visual narration where the echoes of white nationalism resonate, which these days have returned to occupy the front line of the political and social debate in the United States. At the same time, but thousands of kilometers to the east, the photographer Julián Barón, 42, was attracted by the historical representation of the Battle of the Ebro, the longest and bloodiest battle and in which more fighters participated during the Civil War, which each summer, at the end of July, attracts hundreds of visitors to Fayón (Zaragoza).

“What would the writer think Max aub of this simulation of your war? What would a war of war be like through the labyrinth of silence and the blockades that have been maintained over time? ”Asks Barón. Good connoisseur of the writer’s legacy, one of the great intellectual figures of the Republic and author of The magic labyrinth –A choral story where the complexity of the human being is evident with its fissures, contradictions, miseries and greatness that determine his different ways of facing a war–, the photographer considered a new project that led him to tour Spanish towns such as Lopera, Morata de Tajuña or Viver. Recreations take place there that bring generations who did not know the war closer to different war episodes that occurred between 1936 and 1939.

“They are drills halfway between the recreational and the cultural and have become an exercise in war tourism that works as a model in different places in forgotten Spain,” explains Barón. “This tension always kept me in the role of feeling like a reporter who travels back in time and takes digital photos of the theater of the civil war. I joined the crowd and took photos of everything that was happening, archiving the photos by battle and year.


Image from the book 'The magic labyrinth'.enlarge photo
Image from the book ‘The magic labyrinth’.

In 2018, invited to participate in the Getxo Photo festival, the photographer began to shape that visual imagery. “I had no title for the project and I was bored by the solution of using individual images. Until one day, during the editing process, when choosing one photo among six, I decided to superimpose all of them; a visual entanglement in which the superposition is perceived as a journey of the eye in search of the nodes that make up the total image ”. A mess in which the individual perception is fused with the collective perception of a fateful episode in our history. “Spain will never come out of the labyrinth because Spain is the labyrinth,” wrote Aub. Under the title of The magic labyrinth, the project was finished in the form of photobook edited by the Max Aub Foundation, in which he worked alongside designer Mati Martí. The unsewn pages allow the reader to vary the encounters between some images and others in order to make him feel the idea of ​​the existence of many layers of reading.

In the center of the book is a text from texts that offers a more critical review of the facts. “Written by six different voices, and in different languages ​​- Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque – these texts synthesize what the images suggest to them and highlight the conflict of nationalities that still persists today,” says the author. The project includes a soundtrack composed by Vargas that incorporates the audios recorded during the events. Barón describes the participants in these war recreations as “non-radical people, of different ages, mostly interested in historical events or military practices.” In the morning, they wear the national uniform. In the afternoon, they reappear disguised as republicans, “in order to bring the battle closer to other generations so that their consequences are not forgotten,” says the photographer.


Image from the book 'Pale Blue Dress'.enlarge photo
Image from the book ‘Pale Blue Dress’.

The Californian equivalent of this peculiar show has less clear ends. “Some of the participants use these celebrations as a vehicle to express their ideas, hidden behind the parapet of history,” says Tauszik. “Participation implies an investment of close to a thousand dollars, between the purchase of uniforms, shoes, flags, and other details. They choose which army to join in each act, and I think the election is not without an identification with the ideals of the side. ” From the photographer’s approach to the subject one could expect a critical perspective, but her gaze is neutral and even kind.

Dispense with more general images to focus on portraits, small details or the most intimate moments in which that particular fantasized reality takes place in which each participant immerses himself for a few days. There is no condescension, no irony, only curiosity. “It is sad to miss the voice of African Americans in the organization of these events,” says Tauszik, who points to a single exception: the presence of a black actress. “Her absence is understandable, in a way, since it should not be very pleasant for them to be immersed in this environment. There is no concrete reference to the issue of slavery, which is what this war was about, after all. They have managed to give the event a festive tone, forgetting the true cause that led to the conflict, “adds Tauszik.

“It is important to commemorate history and learn from our mistakes, as it is to be honest when acknowledging the facts: not to be left alone with those who like our history. I think there is an intention to reposition the Confederate side, “says Tauszik in conclusion. Hence, these types of restorations, which peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, are beginning to experience decline. “It is not easy to attract millennials and encourage them to recreate the Confederate Army, with more reason after the latest events. The debate on racial injustice, the movement Black Lives Matter and the removal of the statues it will have, without a doubt, its consequences ”.

Pale Blue Dress. Brandon Tauszik. Book & Job. 32 pages. 13.30 euros.

The magic labyrinth. Julián Barón. Max Aub Foundation. 100 pages. 24 euros.

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