"Broken Land, Still Lives," an exhibit by photographer Eliot Dudik, is currently on view in the Warner Gallery. The artist was on campus this past Friday, September 22 to speak at the show's opening in the O'Brien Arts Center. The show consists of large-format landscape and portrait photography, both of which center around Civil War history. Dudik's landscapes capture Civil War battlefields and locales (Harpers Ferry; Antietam; Lookout Mountain; Chickamauga, GA) in their current state. "My goals are to create landscapes that come alive with the acts of war, and cause, at least, contemplation of the nature of being American," Dudik explained. His portraits feature Civil War reenactors after their moment of "death" on the battlefield.
Dudik originally became interested in the men who participate in weekend Civil War reenactments during the 150th anniversary of the conflict, when he met a reenactor who "wept and recounted the stories of all his ancestors killed or wounded in conflicts dating to the Civil War," Dudik recalled. "I have since learned that the motivations compelling re-enactors are incalculably convoluted, but generally involve preservation of history and appropriate honor for the fallen." Dudik's portraits attempt to capture not only the reenactor himself, but the reenactor's performance of death. "The idea of controlling one's death, choosing when and where to perform and re-perform one's demise, is a fascinating study in psychology and consciousness," Dudik said. "These portraits provide a sense of the diversity of actors existing in this community, many of whom devote their lives to this performance, and strive to immortalize them in a fabricated state of tranquility as they hover above the ground they fight for."
"Eliot's work is not only interesting in terms of his style and process—he still photographs with large format film cameras—but maybe more so because of the issues he is addressing through the images," said photography teacher Joshua Meier. "By utilizing scenes and events from a time in American history when our country was literally divided, Eliot is shining a light on our current social and political landscape and the divisions that are unfortunately still as present today as they were 150 years ago. Eliot's images remind us that many of the dark spots in our history are not relegated to our past."
"By engaging with this work, our students begin to understand the complex ways in which art deals with current and pressing issues in society, and how artists use visual language in order to communicate their thoughts and concerns," Meier continued. "They gain insight into how a body of work comes to be, and how artists go about making their work out in the real world."
"It was interesting to hear about the connections that Dudik drew between his work and the current political and social climate when he was discussing his inspiration for the project," said photo major Francesca Bruni '18. "It really made me think about what messages I want to explore and send through my future work."
"The current political divide in this country is not dissimilar to that of mid-nineteenth century America, and current political and cultural polarization in the United States seems to have blinded citizens to the effects of historical schisms: divisions that, having not been recognized and resolved, led to the horrific and devastating events of the American Civil War," Eliot said. "These photographs are an attempt to preserve American history—not to relish it, but recognize its cyclical nature and to derail that seemingly inevitable tendency for repetition."