Brandon Tauszik’s Pale Blue Dress examines the subculture of reenactment groups
After years spent with Civil War re-enactment groups, the photographer offers a look inside the re-enactors’ “fabricated mental and physical realm”.
- Lucy Bourton
- 3 September 2020
With Pale Blue Dress photographer Brandon Tauszik has managed to create a documentary series with a deep narrative at its core. Built during time spent with Civil War re-enactment groups in California, the project is the result of years’ worth of work and began, Brandon tells It’s Nice That, “when I saw a sign advertising a nearby re-enactment [and] I decided to show up.”
Originally introduced to photography as a teenager, Brandon’s first photographic tool was a Motorola flip phone with a 0.3 megapixel camera – it was 2003. This introduction to the medium will resonate with many of a similar age group. “Even though it was a terrible camera,” he says, “I loved to use it and would photograph my friends and punk shows all the time.”
This love never faltered either, and although Brandon never studied photography in an academic sense, he “began making more deliberate work and maintained an interest in photographing people,” he explains. Expanding his practice into film too, Brandon’s work today mostly centres around “socially critical visual narratives”. For instance, his most recent projects include documenting free Covid-19 testing in California, as well as working on Facing Life, a series profiling the lives of eight individuals recently released from decades in prison, following the state’s prison-reform laws.
With this outlook in mind, Pale Blue Dress provides an alternative perspective on historical re-enactments. Deciding to embark on the project due to finding work on the topic to be “largely condescending in tone and heavy on the irony,” Brandon became keen “to focus only on the re-enactors and their fabricated mental and physical realm”.
In turn, the beauty of the series is in its tiny details. The care taken over a re-enactor’s costume for instance, or the facial expression of someone getting fully into character. “Visually, I was less attracted to flashy battles and more to the moments in between, the downtime when chores and duties had to get done,” says Brandon. “I would often simply wander the expansive campsites and insert myself into different groups, some cooking dinner or cleaning guns, or drinking whiskey.” Zooming in on these details also acts as a reminder that we are viewing a carefully constructed fabrication, far from the truth of the actual historical event.
Witnessing the re-enactors’ intricate fabrication of the Civil War also drew Brandon further into the project. Interested in “how the orthodoxy around the Civil War has been contorted over the years,” the photographer explains that many white re-enactors “told me they don’t believe the war was fought over slavery at all,” he tells us. “This commonly refuted belief is one that trivialises the horror and scale of American slavery. By writing a new narrative around the war, many re-enactors dismiss the plight of African Americans, and instead celebrate that time in American history.”
To portray this, Pale Blue Dress is released with an accompanying essay, commissioned once Brandon had “finally found an edit of the work that felt cohesive and complete”. Written by professor of United States History at Stanford University James T. Campbell, it encourages readers to “Look carefully at the images. Given our fraught political moment, one might expect a more skeptical perspective. Instead, Tauszik renders his subjects as they present themselves, never puncturing the carefully cultivated historical illusion surrounding them.”
Now released – both the series and essay can be viewed here – Pale Blue Dress as a photographic and editorial project is a reflection of Brandon’s desire “to examine a largely white subculture with a propensity to trivialise the horror and scale of American slavery”. Purposefully released in 2020, it also encourages a continued conversation on the subject, given the run-up to the November election, and, as Brandon says, “in the wake of the police brutality protests this year, there has been a renewed call to examine our narrative around the Civil War.”
GalleryBrandon Tauszik: Pale Blue Dress (Copyright © Brandon Tauszik)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.