“Every summer thousands of people from all over the world gather in a Kentish field and leave the present firmly behind. They step out of their routine daily lives and transform into historical characters from the First and Second World Wars, often with such vigour and obsessive attention to detail that it’s hard to imagine them in contemporary settings. Taking on a different name, identity and sometimes even a different tongue, the role players re-enact battles and drills from an imagined past. It is something more than acting, a collective fantasy played out on a massive scale.”
- Jim Naughten
“’The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,’ wrote the novelist L.P. Hartley back in 1953. He probably never saw a military re-enactment. Otherwise he might have noticed that the past is often happening in our own country, played out by the butchers and bakers from
down the road, and with an obsessive approach to ensuring that they do things exactly the same. Where August Sander published Face of our Time (1929), 80 years later, Jim Naughten, capturing a broad cross-section of ages and genders, presents the face out of time. Naughten’s portraits, featuring costumes from both World Wars and beyond, document a group of people who balance a fetish for historical accuracy with the kind of appetite for fantasy that allows a person to take on the guise of someone else. And, of course, their collective attempts to keep history alive.
What follows is a series of ‘action scenes’ that look like toned-down versions of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Hell (2000) – although there’s no morality here – and objective portraits (you could almost be flicking through a catalogue of Tamiya military models – a sensation enhanced by the photographer’s use of post-production techniques) captioned only with details that describe nationality, unit and rank (but interestingly, given the fact that these portraits are, on one level, about people with a kink for history, rarely any precise dates). But if, as it seems, these people are what they wear (and look how wonderfully clean and well-kept that clothing is), then perhaps in that alone they stand out as icons for a contemporary age. One in which everything is surface, everyone can be a celebrity and everyone can belong to a tribe as long as they have the right hair and they’re wearing the right kind of clothes.”
- Mark Rappolt
Jim Naughten - "Re-enactors"
29-31 Saffron Hill
London EC1N 8SW
October 9th to December 4th, 2009
Mon - Sat, 10am - 5pm