At the Tipton Gallery downtown, attendees are transported back to the Civil War through a modern lens.
Katie Sheffield’s Master of Fine Arts exhibit titled “Descendants” features large photographs of re-enactors who recreate battles of the American Civil War.
Having been interested in genealogy and the Civil War before she started school, Sheffield uncovered a photo of her grandfather and her great grandfather, so when she attended her first re-enactment, she began taking photos as a spectator, intrigued.
Sheffield began to frequent re-enactments in the area to take photographs of the people there and quickly realized how people reacted to the camera. After a year or so, Sheffield concluded that the way to obtain the photos she envisioned was to join a group and begin participating in the reenactments herself.
“Nobody paid any attention to me anymore even though you’re kind of a spectacle walking around in a hoop skirt,” Sheffield said.
Over the course of four years, Sheffield photographed Civil War reenactments and other similar events throughout Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky.
While she has shown her work for many years, this is Sheffield’s second show on her own, and it is her first venture into color photography. Used to shooting architecture and in black and white, Sheffield said that shooting color photos and photographing people were new experiences.
“That’s the one thing when I started graduate school; I wanted to have something that would challenge me,” Sheffield said. “So photographing people was really much different. You know, you take snapshots of people, but it wasn’t like really getting in there and doing it full-blown”
Some of the photographs are posed, and some are candid shots she captured naturally.
One photo Sheffield favors is a photo of “mechanical cavalry,” a group of motorcyclists in a parade awarding a Confederate Medal of Honor to a soldier that fought in a battle in a small county in Virginia. The photo includes many Confederate flags being flown by the cyclists and the parade attendees. Sheffield favors the photograph because the patches and decorations on the bikers’ clothing can be read.
The photo was the first she took after the recent resurgence in controversy surrounding the confederate flag. Sheffield said the event was flooded with Virginia State Police, and there were people rolling down their windows to shout things at the re-enactors from their car; a very tense scene.
“That was really kind of surreal,” Sheffield said.
The exhibition also includes a photograph with a tie to Sheffield’s own family history. The photo is a shot of a young boy at the Battle of Middle Creek in Prestonburg, Kentucky, a re-enactment of the battle where one of her own ancestors was killed at age 29.
Some of the photos are serious, but when people see her photographs, she hopes visitors also notice the irony and humor in the details.
“Descendants” will be on display in the Tipton Gallery in downtown Johnson City at 126 Spring St. until Nov. 22. Tipton Gallery is open Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. or by appointment.