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The enduring legacy of the U.S. Civil War is difficult to overestimate. Over 150 years in the past, it remains our nation’s deadliest conflict. Though no one alive can claim to have witnessed its events first hand, the war’s place in our collective memory is evidenced in the films we watch, the political and economic landscape we have inherited, and the countless historic markers, statues and memorials scattered across the southern and eastern portions of the United States.

 

Civil War battlefields are strange, often highly negotiated spaces. There is general agreement that the history these sites preserve is important, yet there are complexities as to how this history is presented and how the land has been changed to accommodate current stakeholders’ interests. War colleges make frequent use of these locations to teach our aspiring young officers military history and tactics. Historians, archaeologists - scholars of every variety come in support of their research. And then, there are the literally millions of tourists who make treks annually - whose importance cannot be underestimated because it is their support that keep these parks open.

 

Still many other locations remain unmemorialized - sites today deemed too valuable to waste on preservation, locations of sporadic violence whose outcome is not considered important, or most uncomfortably those spaces whose histories confuse or dispute the narratives we long to hear - the plowed and planted over remains of mass graves, sites of black heroism and massacre, locations where ignoble and best forgotten acts occurred (at least in the minds of those who have occupied these places in the years since). The Battlefield Project started as a way I could begin to explore of all this, a way I could question how particular sites have evolved. 

 

In form, the Battlefield series is comprised of photographs taken in Civil War memorial and battlefield sites across the United States. Many are simply documentation of sites and phenomena directly observed. Others record digital projections of archival photographs of soldiers or heroic paintings of battle. These projections are cast upon the sites where those depicted fought and fell. Rather than post-production collage via Photoshop layering or the like, I am interested in the physical integration, image wrapping over structure, and how projected fragments from the past are supported by and illuminating of the landscapes and structures they are cast upon.

 

Whether observed or constructed, the goal of these photographs is the same - to create a compression between a traumatic past and the present day, a space where the relationship between site and memory, the now and that fleeting moment where the nation almost succeeded in tearing itself apart, can be investigated.

2017 Jeff Beekman