Project Update

By Roger (22 Nov 2013)

This week's 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address offered me another opportunity to add photos to my personal project about the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. I've been chugging through a couple of other commemorations since I last wrote about this project, but it's always nice to get up to Gettysburg.

We got there early enough to park directly across from the Soldier's National Cemetery. The cloud cover meant we weren't going to make too many shots with lots of sky, but the even lighting was nice for people. We made a short circuit around the central burial fields before finding a good location near the front of the speakers' dais. Maybe because of my genealogy background, I am not bothered when walking around cemeteries. I enjoy reading the tombstones and thinking about the lives and times of those buried there. Since this cemetery was created to bury the thousands killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, the majority there lived short lives in very troubled times. But there are more recent internees, too.

Cemeteries may not be the first thing that comes to your mind as photo subjects, but I'm often in them for my history projects.

Cemeteries may not be the first thing that comes to your mind as photo subjects, but I'm often in them for my history projects.

By the time the ceremonies began, there were more than 4,000 people there. I counted four Lincolns, a Frederick Douglass, LTG Grant (neither Douglass nor Grant were at the real event in 1863), 75-100 anonymous Union soldiers, and countless townspeople in period dress. They were surrounded by media folks with TV cameras and microphones, driving a buzz around the country that was more intense than the original event.

Michael E. Crutcher Sr. portraying Frederick Douglass at the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

Michael E. Crutcher Sr. portraying Frederick Douglass at the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

The crowds got in my way for the types of photos I like to take at these events. I usually like to keep all signs of the modern world out of sight, but that wasn't always possible. I managed to work around some of it through cropping, lens blur, and when necessary, Photoshop. Some things, like President Lincoln on the podium with a microphone, I just had to accept.

James Getty portraying Abraham Lincoln at the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

James Getty portraying Abraham Lincoln at the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

The re-enactors are great resources you can use to discover additional opportunities. I always talk to these folks and try to trade business cards. As I've said before, the people who take these re-enactments seriously have dedicated lots of time and effort to make their portrayals as real as possible. They do not object to you photographing them. Just be decent about it and send them a file they can use on their websites or for their own purposes.

A Union cavalry trooper at the Soldier's National Cemetery, Gettysburg.

A Union cavalry trooper at the Soldier's National Cemetery, Gettysburg.

Quick tip – Before I begin to make photographs, I synchronize my watch with the camera clock. Then, when I make their photo and give them a card, I write the time I took the photo on my card. They can send me an email with the time, and I know right where to find them. I make so many photos of so many people at these events, it can be hard to remember who is who. This method is the easiest way to keep everyone in synch.

While we were at the ceremonies, we met some members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company B. They were waiting for their part of the activities, so I took a couple of photos. They are located nearby, so I hope to do more with them at some other event. They have a website with the history of the unit and events in which they'll be participating (link).

A soldier from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company B, Gettysburg.

A soldier from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company B, Gettysburg.

Obviously, I thought the trip was great and added a few new photos to my project. I dragged a new photographer with me from work because it's always more fun when you have someone to enjoy the event with. More trips are on the horizon, right up to April 2015, at Appomattox, Va. Leave a comment or send me an email if you'd like to join me for some of them.