The obsessive glory of England's World War reenactors
In the U.K., some rather meticulous hobbyists spend their summers going back in time
In 2012, after moving to London from the U.S., photographer Daniella Zalcman found herself in professional limbo, unable to work while awaiting her visa. Setting out to find a creative, personal project that might also help her settle into her new surroundings, she happened across the weird world of historic reenactors and felt strangely at home.
Private leauan Joe Smith at the Victory Show in Leicestershire, England. | (Daniella Zalcman)
A "Salute to the 40s" event at the Chatham Dockyards. | (Daniella Zalcman)
"I grew up in Maryland/Virginia [where] Civil War reenactment is very popular," Zalcman said in an interview. "I have always liked the spirit of historical reenactment."
British historic reenactment groups, of which there are many, gather mostly on summer weekends, and the events are open to the public. For two years, when the weather got warm, Zalcman traveled around southern England, with the occasional trip to Normandy, France, to photograph these rather meticulous European hobbyists.
"I'm a bit of an obsessive person myself, so I like seeing what others get obsessive about. And boy, do they obsess — I've overheard so many friendly arguments over whether this button is the right color or that patch is sewn in the right place," she said. "They really want to make sure they're getting it right."
Squadron Sergeant-Major Nick Gibson, Royal Engineers. | (Daniella Zalcman)
French reenactors run drills as German Wehrmacht soldiers at the Merville Battery in Normandy, France. | (Daniella Zalcman)
Zalcman focused on World War I and World War II groups. And the events she attended ranged from live battle scenes rich with authentic uniforms, weaponry, and play-by-plays, to living history displays where curious observers and participants are encouraged to walk through and ask questions about each set-up.
To photograph these weekend warriors, Zalcman chose one of her favorite cameras — a twin-lens reflex (a manual from the 1950s) — that not only captured beautifully warm photos with a vintage feel, but also happened to be the same type of technology World War II photographers would have used at the time. “I think the reenactors definitely appreciated that I was using a camera that was more or less from the right period," she said. "I feel like they thought I was approaching the project with the same spirit of traveling back in time."
Italian reenactor Pierantonio Farina takes a photo on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, while doing an impression of a U.S. press photographer. | (Daniella Zalcman)
Lois Banyard, Women's Auxiliary Air Force ground crew, at the War and Peace Revival in Folkestone, England. | (Daniella Zalcman)
Ieuan Joe Smith during a live battle reenactment in Leicestershire, England. | (Daniella Zalcman)
Couple. | (Daniella Zalcman)
Red Army encampment at an event in Leicestershire, England. | (Daniella Zalcman)
D-Day. | (Daniella Zalcman)
German prisoner, World War I, at the War and Peace Revival in Folkestone, England. | (Daniella Zalcman)
Jason Hopkins, Royal Air Force aircraftman, at the War and Peace Revival in Folkestone, England. | (Daniella Zalcman)