The Re-enactors

Last spring, my friend, Tony Britton, agreed to lend me his daughter’s camera without even telling her! She was away travelling and he had just spent a fortune getting it new light seals and having it serviced. We justified it as a way to test it for her return. Some weeks later, when I reluctantly returned the camera; Tony proudly showed me Amelia’s photography over coffee. Her work was excellent, original and really appealed to my photographic taste. I was particularly struck by her series, ‘The Re-enactors’. And so, a year later, I found a way to share this superb collection and to confess, in person, to having borrowed Amelia’s camera; it turned out she knew all along.

• Amelia, tell me a bit about you?

I'm an ex-student of Middlesex University where I graduated in Photography with a First Class. I'm currently setting up a studio-based business called Fresh Shoot Studios! I have a cat with 3 legs and cake is staple in my diet. 

• I know that ‘The Re-enactors’ was a part of your university work, can you tell me more about the assignment and its part in your degree?

"The Re-enactors' took my life for the best part of a year. It was my final year assignment and was most of my degree. It was hard, wonderful, and cold.

• How did you come up with the idea for the series, were you inspired by something you had seen or someone you knew?

I had recently completed a similar documentary project on Amateur Dramatic Societies, and this felt like a natural step.  It's another side to dramatics only a lot more ammunition! The guys (and girls) that take part are fully committed to giving a great performance! I knew a couple of people that took part in it from when I worked at the Palace Theatre, and once you know one person, that whole world opens up!

• Did you have a clear vision of what ‘The Re-enactors’ was going to be about and how you were going to tell the story or did it grow slowly out of each shot?

Honestly, no! I did a few shoots with re-enactors in the field but I found the most interesting shots during tea break! The madness of seeing a World War II soldier talking on his mobile phone was just wonderful to watch. In the end the project came off the field and into their homes and real lives. It's in their own homes that these photographs really show them as 'The Re-enactors'. 

• The series comprises of two portraits of each re-enactor, one internal and one external. Why and what did these settings mean to you?

 I think both of these settings just show the context of the project. Because ultimately these aren't soldiers, they are modern men. I think it's important not to recreate images of the past but to create new images. 

 

 

• Can you tell me a bit about how you approached a potential re-enactor and what was their reaction to your request?

The re-enactors were very open and willing to have their photographs taken! They loved doing it, and often their entire family was involved so it was really easy to get people involved. Husbands and wives, room mates, mothers and sons, in some way everybody in the project had a connection.  

• You said that your tutor warned you of the possibility that the images could be seen as ‘mocking’ their subjects, how did you feel about this statement and did it have an affect on how you approached the project?

I was actually quite taken aback by it. It wasn't until after the main shoots that this was put to me. I'd never even thought of it as mocking. I think the images reflect that, all the poses in the photographs are quite strong, and I think they are almost images of power. I think if I'd photographed them getting dressed, or in a more documentary way that definitely could have been evident - especially as I've never taken part in re-enactment; not that I wasn't invited too!

• How did the re-enactors react to the finished project as a series and do you have any interesting or funny anecdotes?

 The re-enactors are the most warm hearted group of people I've ever met. They are so willing to help you get what you need out of the shoot. As far as I'm aware they are all very happy with the images, they all have copies of the images.

 There was one time, the first time I met the incredible 'Texas Dave'. We met outside Hounslow West Tube station for a coffee/initial meet and greet! He turned up in full re-enactor wear. I thought he had done this just for me, I later came to realise this was his way of life. He lived and breathed Texas and its cowboys. So we met very briefly and then he offered to show me his entire collection located at his home in Twickenham. I had a gut feeling that this was a man I could trust, so I got into his car and we made our way to Twickenham. It was only half way there that he mentioned that I could see his knife collection. Panic ensued. 

 However there was absolutely nothing to worry about as what I came across in that high rise flat was something I couldn't have even imagined. Wall to wall (literally, even the floor) covered in Texas memorabilia. It was an extensive collection, and I knew that I needed to take his portraits among his possessions. Texas Dave's images are ultimately my favourites, such a kind and gentle man. Unfortunately Texas Dave died at the end of last year, from Parkinson's, and so I have dedicated this project to him.

 
 

• How important is a series or project as opposed to a single image to you and why?

 I think a series of images is just so much more powerful. Photography is completely subjective; but in my opinion having a more rounded, comprehensive look at what you are photographing is so much more interesting. There is also a tendency in photography to take things out of context, and so having a series gives people that context. Which for me, is important. 

• Can you tell me a bit about your next project?

 I love working with groups of people.  I've always had a fascination with people who keep and race ferrets! One day I hope to make a series of portraits based on ferret keepers. At the moment my main focus is getting my own business started and then when that starts to run itself,  I'll think about picking up my camera again. 

 • Finally, a bit of technical information, what camera did you use and how did you produce the final images?

 My camera is the Mamiya 6. It's a square medium format camera. It's a beautiful film camera to use. I started on film with a Bronica 6x4.5, however,  I found the body to be too clunky for me. The Mamiya is a much more flexible camera. I used Fuji 400 film for the most part to give me as much flexibility with my technical decisions!  The final images were produced using a high res scan, manipulated very slightly digitally and printed at a professional print lab. People depend too much on the abilities of Photoshop. It has many positives, but if your image is rubbish, Photoshop can't help you. 

 • Why did you choose to use film rather than a digital camera?

 I use film because (in truth) it makes me a better photographer. The fact that I have 12 shots per film, which is costing more and more to develop really makes you think about what you are taking. You think more about your compositions, ISO, ƒ stops and of course the light. 

 
 

Amelia's business Fresh Shoot Studios is based at Wraysbury, Middlesex. You can contact her via email at info@freshshootstudios.co.uk

© All Rights Reserved | Amelia Britton 2014