Saturday, September 13, 2014

Groupie #2

When a man stays up 'till 3 a.m. preparing, I want to see what he comes up with.

Park ranger and photo historian extraordinaire Mike Gorman had allowed research for his talk today to take over his life - his words- as he gathered together "Images of the Final Campaign, Richmond 1864."

I was definitely in the minority at the historic Henrico Theater, where a sea of males was only occasionally punctuated by a female face, almost all of them except me with a male companion.

His theme was "condition of repose," a quaint phrase to reflect how much times was spent between battles and that's most of what photographers of the era were able to capture.

Which is not to say necessarily restful scenes (a hanging was particularly gruesome) but frequently staged scenes to represent war to the masses (see: propaganda).

Explaining that renowned Civil War-era photographer Matthew Brady was nearly blind at the time, a fact that prevented him taking pictures, he said it did not stop him from being in the pictures.

We played a version of "Where's Waldo?" and he showed a half dozen photos with Brady posing, often front and center, in the midst of camps and battlefields.

And because he's Mike Gorman, photo nerd, he showed Civil War "movies" where he combined two or three pictures to simulate motion.

"Okay, folks, if that doesn't do it for you, thanks for coming," he wisecracked.

Humor abounded, as it always does at his talks and tours, and every time he got off on a geeky tangent or explanation, he'd say, "Here I go, I'm putting on a my propeller beanie!" and explain in detail.

His piece de resistance was an October 1864 photograph of colored Confederate troops and once he blew it up, you could see the figures of Union soldiers on earthworks in the background.

"This is the only shot of Union and Confederate troops together. It's the most impressive photograph of the Civil War," he said and the audience sat stunned and silent.

"That's the proper reaction!" he boomed, clearly satisfied at our amazement.

Another shot the Library of Congress had mis-labeled as Petersburg turned out to be, through his studied investigation, actually of our own Fort Harrison.

They don't make geeks like Mike every day, that's all I'm going to say.

I do my best to attend his talks and tours because you never know what this guy digs up at 2 a.m. sitting in his underwear in front of the computer while eating popcorn and drinking a beer.

No doubt with his propeller beanie on.

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