"We are all familiar with those great photos of soldiers long past
that stare at us from every Civil War book. We have all dreamed of
having that one defining portrait taken of us that would somehow
come close to that look. At most national events there are
photographers willing to relieve any soldier boy of $30 to $50 if
they are willing to stand in line for three hours and come back
later for that photo. I know that during these events there is
always two things I'm short on - free time and money. There has to
be a better and simpler way.
A year or so ago, Sgt. Cox and I began kicking around an
idea that there had to be a way to provide our fellow 9th Texans
with a reasonable and affordable way to get a photo taken that
approximated those taken during the Civil War. Since then, through
trial and error we have been making some surprising progress.
The basic photo available to the average soldier of that
provided to him on glass plate, on paper (called the "carte de visite"
CDV), and the tintype. We started by trying to age our photos and
make them look like glass plates. After several days of trial and
error we felt we had the "look" and then we worked towards getting
that to a glass plate.
(Photo 1) We were able to reproduce a look-alike glass plate rather
quickly but realized that while these would be good for displays at
home "in the parlor" - they were much too fragile and would not
stand up to the rigors of camp life.
The carte de visite (CDV)
was an actual piece of film
attached to a small decorative card about the size of a playing
card. These were usually done in multiples so that the soldier
could give them out to family, friends and the "sweetheart" they
left behind. (Photo 2) Our reproductions have been steadily
improving and we are now working on a variety of designs and
improvements to make them more durable as they would be the most
likely to be shown and carried in a re-enactment.
The third photo type is the
tintype - an actual piece of
that was treated with photo emulsion and exposed to light. The
tintype look is very distinctive and we are currently trying to
perfect our technique of making a reasonable example without
chemicals. (Photo 3) Tintypes ranges from
the size of a postage stamp to as large as a sheet of writing paper.
They were enclosed in a decorative paper frame much like the CDV's.
Other ideas are in the works to expand our efforts. We have
collecting "props" - decorative columns, chairs, vases, rugs and
curtains so that we can set up a "Studio" setting like the ones that
were visited on occasion by the troops. Group or single shots can
be taken in camp and processed for that "in the field" look. Who
knows- maybe in the future we could use this as a way to recruit
(say at a museum) or as a way to raise funds for the 9th.
Thanks to Sgt. Cox, I have sifted through
a lot of great
re-enactment photos and it has taught us a great deal about the
Civil War photo. While a little imagination, a bit of modern
technology and a few minutes of effort go along way - the main
ingredients are the impression, the pose and the setting. We will
keep working to improve our efforts and we look forward to giving
each member of the 9th an opportunity to get that "defining" photo."