Photo Challenge #6: General Grant

General Grant regales his audience at Appomattox - April 9, 2015

Starting in 2010, I worked on The 1861 Project [Spotify]: “A collection of new, original songs, recorded in a contemporary acoustic style, telling the stories of the real people who fought and lived through America’s Civil War…”  The project was the brain child of Thomm Jutz, who co-wrote all of the songs and produced all the tracks on three CDs released between 2011 and 2014.  I partnered up with Thomm and co-writer Peter Cronin to get the CDs produced and distributed.

Besides my role as the Executive Producer on the project, I also found myself supplying all the photos for the CDs ands the few live shows we did.  This meant that starting in the late winter of 2011, I attended numerous Civil War reenactments, during the course of which I got to know some of the unique… ummm… characters.. that populate these events.

Among the most colorful characters I encountered was Dr. Curt Fields, an educator from the Memphis side of Tennessee who portrays Ulysses S. Grant, the Union commander who did “the terrible arithmetic” (Lincoln’s words) that finally ended the war in 1865.  I first met Curt at the Sesquicentennial reenactment of the Surrender of Fort Donelson, which was one of the first engagements that marked Grant’s ascendance in the winter of 1862.

Let’s just say that “General Grant” has a keen sense of “his” place in history, and so is quite cooperative about posing for photos.  In fact, I went back to another reenactment of Fort Donelson a year later, and Curt arranged for us to get onto the grounds of the actual fort where the battle was fought for a few location shots – like this one of General Grant and two of his aides posing with one of the big guns overlooking the Cumberland River.

General Grant and his colleagues at Fort Donelson - March, 2013

General Grant and his colleagues at Fort Donelson – March, 2013

I ran into Curt/General Grant at several other events over the course of the years of the Sesquicentennial.  I guess he rather liked the photos I took of him, because he always did me the great honor of addressing me as “Mr. Brady” – i.e. “The Matthew Brady of the Reenacted Civil War.”  Considering how many people have also worked with the very photogenic “General Grant” – and Curt’s equally photogenic wife Lena who portrays Mrs. Grant –  it’s quite a distinction.

The last time I saw Curt was in Appomattox, Virginia, where he portrayed General Grant at the Sesquicentennial of Lee’s surrender in April, 1865.  That excursion produced this photo:

Unity - The Final Interview - Grant and Lee at Appomattox - April 10 1865/2035

Unity – The Final Interview – Grant and Lee at Appomattox – April 10 1865/2035

…which I still like to think of as one of the defining images of the Sesquicentennial.

When I first saw that image in the LCD on the back of my camera, I thought I had my “Hindenburg” shot (OK, maybe not quite that dramatic, but you get the idea…).   I tried to get prints or products with this image into the Appomattox National Park gift shop, but they turned me down.  The manager said the horses are too fat.  Go figger…

But I digress…

The image that I’m submitting as the penultimate entry in my “Facebook Photo Challenge” (which I have failed utterly because you’re supposed to put up 7 pictures in 7 days and I think I’m on the second week here…) is the one at the top of this post…

It shows “General Grant” shortly after emerging from the McClean House, where Lee accepted Grant’s terms of  surrender on April 9, 1865.  After the formal reenactment ceremonies were concluded, General Lee rode off quietly in one direction, and General Grant rode off to greet the crowd that had assembled for the occasion, where he delivered what can only be described as a “comedy routine on horseback.”

I don’t know how he does it, but Curt Fields is so well steeped in everything that has ever been written either by or about Ulysses S. Grant that he can hold forth for hours at a time and tell stories about Grant from Grant’s own perspective.  The material is all Grant, but the delivery… well, that’s all Curt. He keeps audiences enthralled, and while he has their attention he delivers a rich education on the true history of America’s Civil War and the men who fought, won, and lost it.

Curt Fields is much more than a cliche “Civil War reenactor.” He is the quintessential embodiment of a “living historian.”  I’m proud to consider him my friend and I hope these photos capture a little bit of what he brings to the experience.

Photo Challenge #5: The Red Violin

The Red Violin

I thought of this one yesterday after posting that Instagram snapshot of the violin headstocks at NAMM.

This goes back to 2013, when I’d just gotten my first “full frame” DSLR, the Nikon D600, and was looking for things to do with it.

Ann and I had been to a show at a small music store in in the Five Points neighborhood of East Nashville called The Fiddle House (t’s not there any more, it has since merged with the Violin Shop on Franklin Pike).  While we were there, I looked up at a display of violins (just what is the difference between a fiddle and a violin, anyway?) hanging on the wall and noticed this one red-toned instrument standing out amid all the brown ones.

I got permission from the owners of the shop to come back and set up a shot that featured that one red violin.  I brought a strobe with me and tried to light the thing, but all I got was glare reflecting off the varnish.  I finally had to put away the flash and resort to the room lighting, with a slightly higher ISO and a MUCH longer exposure.  Thank god I brought my tripod.

One more note about that Nikon D600: that was my last Nikon.  It was awful.  The worst designed and engineered camera I owned in nearly 40 years of using Nikons. I bought it for  the trip I took to the UK in the spring of 2013 (oh, how I wish I was back there now for those endless sunsets around the Solstice!)  I also carried the little Olympus camera that I’d taken when Ann and I went to Scotland in 2012; that was my ‘back up camera’ for that trip.  But I discovered that I kept going to the Olympus when I got tired of lugging the Nikon around.

It wasn’t just the size and weight of the Nikon that wore me down (I got to calling it “the Anvil 600”), but there were other aspects of the camera that were problematic – not the least that I’d gotten one of the models that was so poorly manufactured that the shutter sprayed crud on the sensor, and some of my favorite shots with a deep depth of field (like f/16-22) were nearly ruined by the spots in the images.

It was not long after I returned from that trip that Olympus announced it’s Pro-line of OM-D bodies and lenses, and that’s all I’ve been shooting every since.

Not that anybody asked…