Robert King cringes sometimes when he thinks about the places he's been and the things he's seen. The noted war photographer and subject of the documentary Shooting Robert King has covered hot spots from Bosnia to Afghanistan. He says there are moments in the unflinching film about his early experiences on the battlefield that make him want to cover his ears and close his eyes. He's been kidnapped, robbed, and shot at. He has no idea how many bodies he's stepped over. Sometimes, when he sees himself on the screen, he wishes all the explosions, shouting, and confusion were fictional. And sometimes — very rarely — it all is.
From 2005 to 2009, King took his cameras to less deadly battlefields in Mississippi and Alabama to photograph Civil War reenactors. A portion of the work from those shoots has been collected in "Remembering a House Divided," an exhibit on display at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art through January 2nd. The series began when King noticed a roadside sign advertising a reenactment and decided to check out the action and document it as if it were an actual battle.
There's only one thing missing from the images. Or maybe it's more correct to say there are several things not missing, which makes the exhibit such a good companion to etchings by Civil War documentarian Winslow Homer, whose The Empty Sleeve, depicting a one-armed soldier riding in a carriage, hangs in a nearby gallery. The absence of carnage — so prevalent in most of King's photojournalism — doesn't make the images any less powerful. We see children burying their faces in their hands as cannons spit fire and bouquets of muskets send plumes of pink smoke into the air. In "Remembering a House Divided," King presents images that are as real and adrenaline-charged as his photographs from an actual war zone.
"Remembering a House Divided: Robert King's Photographs of Civil War Reenactors" at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art through January 2n