I have this tremendous fascination of what life was like before the plastic era when there was abundant natural beauty and there was wonder at how great adventures could be in a primitive world, hence the interest in antique photography.---F. Kirsch
Fritz Kirsch, author, digital artist and period collodion era photographer. Kirsch's photographs have been exhibited at the Farnsworth Military Gallery in Gettysburg in the summer of 1997. For ten or more years he has written articles and produced cover photographs for the Camp Chase Gazette, a national Civil War reenactors' magazine. His work can be seen locally at The Olde Nautical Shoppe in Clearwater, Florida, in a book on Gettysburg; a book on local Florida history and in the archives at the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park. In his off-hours Kirsch spends his time kayaking Florida's bays and rivers and throughout the mangrove swamps.
Talking about the nature of impersonating a period photographer, Kirsch relates how difficult it can be to face the hard life our ancestors faced every day: "I am off to the 1840s and 50s in the morning. It may rain which I hate and then turn cold. Reenacting and rendezvousing are tough on people like me who are basically artists first and rugged outdoorsmen next." Likely echoing the sentiments of many nineteeth-century photographer who made views of Florida, he says "I am tough but inside there is still the man who prefers the drawing room to the forest on cold rainy days. Its a mixed adventure but I heard the sounds of the rendezvous and I followed." However difficult it may be, as the sun rises to end another night in the dark chamber, light stirs photographer Kirsch to "hitch up Galucia, my van, and pray that the weather continues to remain dry. Nothing is worse than sitting in a wagon that leaks and then trying to warm oneself with wet wool blankets that have that pungent, earthy smell.
Why put up with hardships that modern times have long eliminated? Perhaps that is the point of activities such as wilderness kayaking and participating in living history events. That our life today is too easy. However, I am sure there is more to it than just an extension of extreme sports. Kirsch says "Reenactments have stories to tell. Each one is different." When he gets the chance, a dispatch is sent to City Gallery for inclusion in this exhibit. Even in this wired world, updating from reenactment locations is difficult. "I could tell the story upon return, but frequently they are so far even from a phone, that electronic communication is often non existent," Kirsch observes. Through the lens and with electronic pen in hand, Kirsch brings the stories home.
Kirsch takes pains to ensure his wagon and photographic equipment matches the period of the event as closely as he can. Kirsch says "I do put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making these images. Even setting up the wagon and the cameras is a major undertaking to replicate the working conditions of Mathew Brady, Sam Cooley, Timothy Sullivan and Alexander Gardner."
Every reenactment brings with it the artist's excitement at new images to make. The images that were so enjoyable to strike from behind the camera result in orders that must be fulfilled by long hours in the dark chamber and at the printing frame. On return from one reenactment Kirsch described his efforts: "Today I worked like a Trojan and turned out a dozen or more of the finest images covering many different aspects of the War Between the States. By now they are drying in the darkroom and I am about bushed. I only wish I had time to make more." And one must remember, Kirsch says, "all my customers have guns, knives, swords and even cannons. One dare not put them off."
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