Skip to content

About

The Civil War Pinhole Project

The Henry House was the focal point for two decisive battles of the Civil War.  Bull Run in 1861 and 2nd Manassas in 1862.  The house now restored is rthe focal point for Manassas National Battlefield Park, Va

The Henry House was the focal point for two decisive battles of the Civil War. Bull Run in 1861 and 2nd Manassas in 1862. The house now restored is the focal point for Manassas National Battlefield Park, Va

This blog reflects a battlefield-to-battlefield journey along the anniversary tracks of the American Civil War. It’s been an arduous and exhilarating trek across landscapes that remain, preserved by virtue of their terrible history, very much as they were 150 years ago—oases now from modernity, pristine and scarred as the great war left them, hallowed and haunting. The past is present on these battlefields.

The sunrise illuminates reenactors in the infamous cornfield on the Battlefield at Antietam. Sept. 17th 2012 the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest day in American history

The sunrise illuminates reenactors in the infamous cornfield on the Battlefield at Antietam. Sept. 17th 2012 the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest day in American history

The images were created with a large-format pinhole cameras—a handmade wooden box with no lens, no viewfinder, and no shutter—that would have seemed primitive even at the time of the Civil War, but that, in uncanny ways, seems the perfect device for this project.

The camera’s tiny, fixed aperture creates a soft, infinite focal plane—a canvas where details are obscured. The minuscule amount of light entering the camera requires a long exposure time that pushes the images into the ambiguous terrain between landscape and dreamscape. Wind blows, leaves rustle, clouds move, the earth turns.

Signal Knob overlooking the Shenandoah Valley in Front Royal Virginia 2012

Signal Knob in Front Royal Virginia served as a look-out point and signal station for both the Union and Confederate armies as they grappled for control of the Shenandoah Valley in 1862 and 1864

The pinhole camera lingers on these battlefields slowly drawing in the light. The images breathe with space and time.

Soldiers’ journals and memoirs describe the battlefields as dreamlike, and that is how they appear through the patient eye of the pinhole camera. Time is stretched and ultimately upended, yielding ethereal panoramas where sharp precision dissolves into a deeper resonance of memory and imagining. The images invite lingering contemplation.

Coexisting alongside these battlefield landscapes is a photographic chronicle of the legion of dedicated reenactors, impeccably attired and historically attuned, who recreated scenes at one battlefield anniversary after another, heightening the eerie déjà vu of this expedition of commemoration.

Gunners at Gettysburg

Gunners at Gettysburg

I had not expected, setting out, that these living historians would figure importantly in this project. But, on my very first battlefield visit, to Manassas, Virginia, for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, I encountered a band of Virginians portraying the units their great-greatgrandfathers had fought in a century and a half before. I marveled at the remarkable nexus of people, place, and history that was unfolding before my eyes.

Reenactors of the 1st Virginia Regiment in Spotsylvania, Va

Reenactors of the 1st Virginia Regiment in Spotsylvania, Va

The impressions of these reenactors—so many descended (like those Virginians at Manassas) from the very soldiers whose uniforms they wear—brought a dimension of verisimilitude and narrative drive to the project and, through the poetic prism of the pinhole, emerged not as play acting or costume drama, but as ghostly evocations of the spirits that hang over these fields.

It was not too long before I found myself becoming one of them, a reenactor in the impression of a Civil War photographer arriving with his primitive wooden box camera onto these fields of battle, squinting my eyes and seeing before me timeless, epic landscapes, and the terrible, transitory struggle that left them sacred ground.

This is, for me, a personal odyssey along the length and breadth of America’s deepest wound. I trust the images will evoke the wonder, the awe, and, ultimately, the peace I’ve found on this pilgrimage through the country’s consecrated domains.

Union troops crossed these fields on the Roulette Farm during the attack on the Sunken Road at the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland 1862

Union troops crossed these fields on the Roulette Farm during the attack on the Sunken Road at the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland 1862

Home

Pinhole Cameras

Battles 1861-1862

Battles 1863

Battles 1864-1865

Slide Shows

 

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. marsha polier #

    MIchael,
    Your Civil War project is fascinating and has captured the interest of me and my octogenarian photographer/historian colleague Richmonder Willie Anne Wright…a nationally known pinhole artist who, for over 40 years, has produced stunning black & white/sepia and Cibachrome pinhole portfolios. Most widely exhibited is her Civil War Redux series – re-enactment photos produced during a 12-year period beginning in 1987 – long before any mention of the 150th Anniversary of the War. Her prints are in many private and corporate collections including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts here in Richmond – her hometown.. When I saw your images recently in the NYT Lincoln article by Nancy Koehn, I was startled by the similarity of your images to those of Willie Anne Wright. You both have a keen and gentle eye – and a fondness for the beauty of history.
    Best wishes,
    Marsha Polier
    marshaphoto@gmail.com

    January 29, 2013
  2. haha have just been over to your website and realised I’m chatting away to a proper photographer of import as if you were just one of my bog standard hobbytog bloggers, cringe :) sorry, anyway just thought I’d best let you know I’m not a stalker, just English :D

    March 14, 2013
    • nothing wrong with being English.

      March 14, 2013
      • No, I’m truly blessed with the best bits of Englishness. :) Your website photography is gorgeous, I love the diversity and social commentary and the portrait work is so modern but beautifully timeless. I especially was taken with the shipyard series, living here in the North East, where the shipbuilding days are in men’s blood, but the work sadly diminished to nothing years ago, it has some pathos to me. I work with these discarded men. oops gone on a bit. Honest! I’m outta here!! :)

        March 14, 2013
      • thanks for stopping by the site and for your thoughtful comments, thanks so much

        Mike Falco

        March 14, 2013
  3. Hi, Michael,

    I assume you’re the same Michael Falco I met in Seattle. I always thought you were a superb photographer–and your new work is mind-blowingly great! I hope that you and Kimberly are doing well.

    Best regards,

    Dan Gunter

    July 14, 2013
  4. A very nice undertaking Michael. Your photographs are indeed magnificent. I couldn’t find any copyrights so I took the liberty of posting your blog on my Civil War Reenactment page at https://www.facebook.com/CivilWarCostumes. If you have a problem with this please let me know and I’ll take care of it.

    October 3, 2014
    • Bronnie,

      thanks for your interest in the work and posting the blog on your Facebook page. All photos are copyrighted. The work has actually been inducted of the National Archive at the Library of Congress. No problem posting the address but please ask before pulling photos. Ive just returned from Petersburg Virginia and will be posting this new work in a week or so. Please stop back. Thanks again
      Mike Falco

      October 4, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Civil War Reenactments Photographed with a Large Format Pinhole Camera

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers

%d bloggers like this: